This beast from the earth is able to perform great signs, such as making fire come down from the sky to the earth. The major purpose of this beast is to direct all worship on the first beast of this vision, the beast from the sea. It seems likely that this beast from the earth appears at the time of the breaking of the covenant that the beast from the sea had with the “many.”
As we discussed last week, before this covenant was broken by the beast from the sea (the antichrist, the one whom Daniel spoke of as “the prince who is to come”), he allowed a certain amount of freedom in worship among the Jews. However, when the covenant is broken in the middle of Daniel’s week (Daniel 9:27), the beast reneges on his promise, and that freedom is revoked.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Statue from the Book of Daniel
This scenario of bowing down to an image at the penalty of death is also reminiscent of something that we read in the book of Daniel. In that well known account, the Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar made a statue and set it up in a prominent place in his kingdom. Then Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree that when the people of his kingdom or others under his control would hear the sound of the music that he ordered, they were to fall down and worship the image. Those who refused were to be immediately cast into a fiery furnace.
Of course, we remember that the three Jewish youths who had been given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were brought before the king when they refused to bow down to the image. As a result, these three were cast into a furnace that had been fired to seven times its normal heated temperature.
Despite all of this, the three remained unharmed in the midst of the furnace. What is more, their hair was not singed, nor when they emerged from the furnace, did they even have the smell of smoke on them. Besides this miracle of deliverance from the flames, when Nebuchadnezzar had looked in the furnace, he saw a fourth man whom he said “had the appearance like a son of the gods” (from Daniel chapter 3).
Because of what king Nebuchadnezzar witnessed regarding the protective power of the God of the three Jewish men, afterward he decreed that no one should speak against God. The king himself broke into praise for God, saying, “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3 ESV).
Although the situation of the image that the beast of the earth set up is similar in many ways with the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, the results are much different. In the book of Revelation, we do not see any softening or submitting to recognize the sovereign power of God in the beast of the sea nor with the beast of the earth. These are defiant to the end.
The Image of the Beast in Revelation
Nor, in the case of the image set up by the beast from Revelation, do we know of any specific instances of people that defied the decree to worship it, as did the three Jewish youths of Nebuchadnezzar’s day. However, the closing words of Daniel’s vision might be understood to show us that some would defy the beast.
In this very last portion of the book, Daniel understood that the vision that he was seeing related to the end of days. He first heard someone ask the question of the one that had been explaining the events of the end times to him. The person or angel who was explaining the events was identified to us as “the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river” (Daniel 12:6, see also 10:5-6).
The man clothed in linen was asked, “How long will it be to the end of these wonders?”
The response was enigmatic. The man “raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half of a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.”
Not surprisingly, Daniel did not understand the answer. He asked another question concerning the end of days. “O my lord,” he inquired, “what shall be the outcome of these things?” (Daniel 12:6-8). The man dressed in linen responded to Daniel:
“Go on your way, Daniel,” he replied, “for the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless, and refined, but the wicked will continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand.
And from the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
But as for you, go on your way until the end. You will rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:9-13 BSB)
The Mark of the Beast
In whatever way that we might interpret this very enigmatic passage of the book of Daniel, as we return to read in the book of Revelation, we see that it is this second beast, the beast from the earth, which demands that all people on earth at that time be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Without this mark, the people of the day will not be able to buy or sell. This is the infamous “mark of the beast,” the mark that has as its number 666.
Concerning the meaning of this number, we are advised that it “calls for wisdom.” The number of 666 in some ways represents the number of the beast. Since the text tells us that this is a number that can be calculated, it is generally assumed that this calculation would involve a practice known as gematria.
Gematria is based on the fact that almost all ancient written languages used specific letter characters also for their numbers. For instance, a very common example is the Hebrew word chai (חי), which means “life.” The two Hebrew letters that make up this word chai have a total numerical value of eighteen, which causes Jewish people to regard this number eighteen as a lucky number. The Greeks also had numerical equivalents for their letters, which has caused a great deal of speculation among certain people in trying to calculate the meaning of the 666.
I will decline to draw out more meaning from this number or try to make any calculations. It may be reasonable to think that gematria may be involved with this calculation, but any attempts that have been done by others to try to come to a conclusion on this number has only caused confusion and brought about misleading ideas. It is my belief that, when the person of the antichrist does come on the scene, the Holy Spirit will give the wisdom to those who are willing to listen to him to help them determine the times in which they are living.
As the man dressed in linen told Daniel, “None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.”
However, concerning this mark of the beast, in all of these creatures (the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land), we see many counterfeits of the works of God. Indeed Satan even tries to imitate the very person of God. These creatures have even been called by some the “unholy trinity,” as a counterfeit to the Trinity of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In some ways, this is applicable, and in some ways, it is not, but it is true that Satan is the great counterfeiter. Even the mark of the beast is a measure taken by the beast in an attempt to counterfeit what God has done in giving a seal on the heads of his bond-servants to protect them.
The Gathering on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1-5)
After John’s experiences of seeing and learning of the two beasts, he looked and saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him the 144,000. These had the name of the Lamb and that of his Father written on their foreheads, which would seem to be possibly the “seal” earlier given to them to protect them.
As John looked upon these 144,000, he heard a voice from heaven that had the sound of “many waters and like the sound of loud thunder.” The voice also had the sound of harpists playing their harps. It is obvious from John’s words that he was once again trying to explain something and had no words to describe it adequately. In this case, it was a sound.
The voice that John heard turned out to be a song that was being sung by the 144,000 redeemed ones. They were singing a new song before the throne and also in the presence of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. The 144,000 were singing a song that, for reasons unknown to us, only they were able to learn.
Earlier, I suggested the possibility that these 144,000 are those who “are alive and remain” to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). If that is so, we see here that they are indeed with the Lord and “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). Of these 144,000, whatever their identity and their purpose might be, it is evident that they are of special consideration, for John tells us much about their character, even if we have a very limited understanding of their purpose.
Besides the fact that they sang the song that only they could learn, we are told that “these are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste.” And, as we have said, “these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Revelation 14:4-5 NAS).
This is not to suggest that Christian marriage is in some way a “defilement,” for of course, that would be entirely contrary to teaching of Scripture. However, it does suggest that these 144,000, in very specific ways, had dedicated themselves purely to the Lord. Perhaps that is why they sing a song that no other human apparently is able to learn.
Three Angels with Three Messages (Revelation 14:6-13)
John also saw an angel flying in midheaven, who had as a task to preach the “eternal gospel” to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. This he did by announcing the words, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Revelation 14:7 NAS).
Although there may be but little fruit that results from this announcement, it demonstrates God’s desire that, even at this final hour, men would be saved.
This first angel was followed by a second who was instead a herald of judgment. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” the angel said, “she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Revelation 14:8 NAS). We will learn more about this “Babylon the great” in another of John’s visions a little later.
Then there was yet a third angel with another announcement. He tells the people of the earth that all who had received the mark of the beast “will drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” Those who worship the beast and his image will have torment forever and ever. In their worship of the beast, their life on the earth in the short run may have been made easier, but in the end, they will all regret this decision of theirs.
With these two announcements of judgment against those who had chosen to become the enemies of God, John writes the admonition, “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
John also heard a voice from heaven that does not seem to be the voice of one of the angels. The voice said to him, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Revelation 14:12-13 NAS). From this announcement of the voice from heaven, we do see that, even in the midst of very severe persecution and the certainty of death if they give their lives over to God, there will be some who do so, and as a result, “die in the Lord.”
The Reaping of the Earth (Revelation 14:14-20)
John next follows with these words: “And I looked and saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was One like the Son of Man with a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand” (Revelation 14:14 BSB).
This specific portion of the vision of John could almost be considered as a separate vision entirely because it offers another view in a very general manner of the final judgment of the peoples of the earth. As is not unusual in the book of Revelation, much of the meaning of what we are told in this portion escapes us or seems incredible, and not a great deal of explanation is given to us to help us in our understanding. This also is one of those passages of Revelation for which we must await the development of history. For the present, we must simply be content to know that we will not come to a full understanding.
This phrase, “the Son of Man,” of course makes us think of that same designation of the man who spoke with John in the beginning of the book of Revelation. In that earlier case, it appears very clear, from what is said, that the voice of the one who is speaking to John is Christ, himself. Here is what we read at that point of John’s writing:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe, with a golden sash around His chest. (Revelation 1:12-13 BSB)
Here, at the reaping of the earth, the person that John saw may very well also be Christ, but this time “having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand” (Revelation 14:14). The “crown” in this case is not the diadem that designates authority, but indeed is the crown (stephanos) of honor or of victory.
As John is still looking at this son of man, another angel comes out of the temple and calls to the one who sits on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:14 ESV). With these words, the “one like a son of man” swung a great sweep over the earth with his sickle, and with that, “the earth was reaped.”
But then a second angel comes out of the temple, this one also carrying a sharp sickle. He would be another who would reap. After him, an angel who “has the power over fire” also appears, coming out from the altar. This angel, the one who has the power over fire, shouts with a loud voice to the angel with the sickle, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 NAS).
This angel with the sickle swings it to the earth, cutting down the vine of the earth (presumably the clusters of the vine). These he throws into the great “wine press of the wrath of God.” The result is severe. As the grapes are pressed (trodden), blood comes out of the wine press in such a quantity that it reached up to the bridles of the horses for a distance of two-hundred miles. This work of the pressing, we are told, takes place outside of the city walls, since the blood of this harvest is a defilement that is not allowed within the city (Revelation 21:27).
The Landowner of All Creation
It seems that it is this very event of the reaping of the earth to which Jesus was alluding when he spoke of the harvest at the end of the age. This we have recorded for us in the book of Matthew. Certainly, Jesus was speaking in parable and spoke of wheat and tares instead of grapes, as we see in the book of Revelation. Nevertheless, the similarity to what we see in Revelation concerning the end of the age is quite clear. In fact, in explaining the parable, Jesus relates it to the end of the age.
In that parable, Jesus told a story of a man who sowed good seed in his field, but when the crop began to emerge from the ground, his workers discovered that there were tares (weeds) that were growing among the wheat. The enemy of the landowner had evidently sowed the seed of the tares in amongst the crop. The workers asked the landowner if they should pull the tares out of the ground, but the landowner told them that if they would do that, as they pulled up the tares, the wheat would also be uprooted.
Instead, the landowner said, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30 ESV).
This story, Jesus said, is an illustration of the end of the age. At that time, he said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:41-43 ESV).
In this portion of Revelation in the reaping of the earth, we see in an abridged and succinct fashion what this harvest at the end of the age will be like.
A Call to Holiness
This brings us to the end of the second vision of John’s in the book of Revelation. There are five visions yet to study, but beginning with next Sunday, we will be taking a break from our study of prophecy to focus on something that is more important in our church.
We began this series of prophetic studies fifteen weeks ago. For fifteen weeks many of you have heard these teachings of the Bible about what to expect as we reach the end of the age – at least a few of you have. Truthfully, most of you have not. You have come once in awhile and have heard bits and pieces. This is not how one learns.
The study of prophecy is for the mature of faith. It is not for the curious; it is not for the merely inquisitive; and it is definitely not for half-hearted. It is for those who have sold out their lives to follow Christ. It is for those who are willing to cast off and abandon all else in life to join with Jesus in what He is building.
And what is that? What is Jesus building?
Jesus told us plainly. He said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
His church is to be populated, as Paul says, by “citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Did you catch that last phrase, “Being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit?”
I’m afraid that this is not what I see in this church. I’m sorry, but I cannot let this all go any longer. I do not see believers who are being built together. I instead see those who squabble over petty issues.
“Someone said something I didn’t like so I am leaving the church!”
“Someone didn’t say something that I thought that they should have said, so I’m leaving the church!”
“If we get a video system for our church, I don’t like it so I will leave!”
“If we don’t get a video system for our church, I am leaving and going someplace that does!”
It is not as if we cannot have opinions, but it is what we do when things do not go our way that matters. We squabble over the most insignificant things and get angry and leave if something upsets us. In the past weeks, we have even been fighting about whether or not we should leave those three damned boards up in the front of our church. I am not swearing when I use that word. The situation is causing division in the body of Christ, so it is damnable.
This is not maturity. This is children squabbling over a toy.
Paul writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
It is time for each of you to decide if you want to continue to squabble, or if you want to mature. Growing to maturity is not an easy task. It takes work, it takes dedication, and it takes humility towards one another.
Do you truly want to mature in your faith? Do not answer this question lightly. Think long and hard before you answer, because if you decide that you do, it will cost you everything.