The Song of Moses and of the Lamb

Revelation 15 introduces seven angels who are about to pour out seven bowls of wrath, but it may seem strange, at least on the surface, to see the response in heaven: victorious saints singing a joyful song of praise. You live in a culture that denies that there are absolutes and that believes that, if there is a god, he must be utterly harmless and simply available to meet our needs. Can there be rejoicing when justice is done? Perhaps you can grasp that better if you recall Rachael Denhollander’s victim statement at the sentencing of Larry Nasser. As disturbing as it it is to listen to that statement, the way that Mrs. Denhollander not only presents the gospel, but also the way that she pleads for justice, for protection, asking repeatedly, “How much is a little girl is worth?” You listen to her and the other victims and you can experience a certain grim satisfaction in the sentence of 40 to 175 years imposed on top of the 60 year sentence already pronounced.

Prepare for wrath. Look for the completion of God’s wrath. In Revelation 12 John had seen two great signs in heaven: the majestic woman and the dragon. The third great sign is seven angels, each holding a bowl. And the bowls are full of the wrath of God. To the angels are given the seven last plagues. Leviticus 26:21 is the place that expression is used outside of Revelation, warning of the wrath of God that would come upon his people if they persisted in idolatry and rebellion. Here those plagues, which will be described in the next chapter, are poured out on a rebellious earth that has persecuted God’s people. Sin, all sin deserves God’s judgment. He is patient, he provides warnings, as he did with Pharaoh, but when there is no repentance, judgment comes. These plagues are the last plagues, not because all of them come at the very end, though they culminate in the Day of Judgment, but they are last in contrast to the first plagues under Moses.

The presence of a holy God precludes sin. The last few verses of the chapter make clear that the judgments come from God. They are an expression of the holiness of God, who cannot allow sin to go unpunished. To persist in rebellion against God is dangerous and foolish. “The concluding statement of ch. 15 underscores the fact that the bowl afflictions do not come ultimately from the seven angels or from the four living beings, but only from God. All these others are his agents in carrying out his judicial designs. . . . God’s presence is so awesome in expressing wrath that not even heavenly beings can stand in his midst.” ( G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, pp. 806–7). An increasingly paganized western culture (Ireland just voted 2 to 1 to legalize abortion) increasingly uses its power and pressure to oppose God and to harm his people. But God reveals his character. The smoke of the glory of God recalls the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, the theophany at Sinai, and the cloud filling the tabernacle and later the temple at their dedications. The point is that the holiness of God is so great that no one, not even the angelic beings, can stand as he displays his wrath—much less the rebels on whom his plagues will fall. God cannot tolerate sin. Yet, the heavenly response to the terrifying scene is a song, the song of Moses and of the Lamb.

Join in the song! Sing the victory song of Moses. The heavenly song is being sung beside a sea of glass. Exodus 15 records a song sung in triumph on the far side of the sea through which Israel had crossed on dry ground, but the following Egyptian army had been drowned. That judgment might seem drastic at first glance, but remember the people of Israel are looking at the soldiers who had been carrying out the orders of Pharaoh to drown their baby sons. Pharaoh may have been trying to exterminate a nation, but behind that was Satan, seeking to rid the world of the line from whom the Messiah would come. The defeat of God’s enemies is grounds for rejoicing. The exodus becomes the great picture of redemption in the Old Testament.

Join in the song of the Lamb. The words of the song in Revelation 15 don’t simply quote Moses and Miriam. Rather, various Psalms that celebrate God’s mighty deeds of redemption, his holiness, majesty, glory, and universal reign, are used to praise God for his new work of redemption. The saints sing of a greater victory than what Moses witnessed. The death and resurrection of Christ is the defeat of Satan. The song of the Lamb is not a separate song from that of Moses, but is simply the response of God’s people to the new and final work of redemption. It is a new song, as you see in Revelation 5:9–14. “Their song is ‘the song of Moses, the bond-servant of the God, and the song of the Lamb’ (Rev. 15:3). It is Moses’ song because God’s victory in liberating his people and destroying their enemies stands in continuity with the ancient exodus, which Moses and the Israelites celebrated in song as they watched the Red Sea close over Pharaoh’s pursuing forces (Exod. 15:1–18). But it is also the Lamb’s song, a ‘new song’ (Rev. 14:3) for the triumph of the Lamb in his sacrificial death, resurrection life, and coming judgment is the last and great exodus, the ultimate salvation that was foreshadowed when the Israelites left Egypt in Moses’ day.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 216). The triumph of the Lamb is what gives you as God’s people courage and strength to persevere when faced with pressure to compromise their commitment to Christ. It gives you strength to press forward, even when obedience seems like a hopeless, futile task. Why was the Lamb slain? To redeem those who had been rebels against God. There is no room for pride as you see the last plagues poured out. It was her understanding of the grace of God in Christ that enabled Rachael Denhollander to hold out to Nassar the hope of forgiveness, should he truly repent.

Ultimately there are two categories of people. There are those who persist in rebellion, on whom the plagues are poured out. And there are those who, because they have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb, because their robes have been washed in his blood, can join in the song of Moses and of the Lamb. Are you joining in that song?

Harvest Time!

Perhaps the month of May seems like a strange time to talk about a harvest. But you plant, looking forward to the harvest. The Passover (or Feast of Weeks as it was earlier called) celebrated the harvest, and Revelation 14:14–20 takes you to the final harvest at the end of this age.

Rejoice in the final harvest. The glorious Son of man uses his sickle to harvest his crop. Waiting for a harvest may be difficult, but John assures you that the harvest time will come. This last vision in a series that began in Revelation 12 takes you to the end of the age. Look at the one like a son of man, sitting on a cloud, wearing a crown, and compare it to Daniel 7:13–14. Remember Jesus’ most common self-designation. Some have questioned identifying this figure with Christ because of the mention of another angel — but that comparison likely simply is to other angelic figures already mentioned. And while it may seem strange for your Lord to be receiving a message from an angel that now is the time for harvest, remember that the incarnate Lord said that only his Father knew the time. The Son is here carrying out his messianic work to its conclusion. The harvest imagery of Joel 3 is picked up by John as is the language that Jesus uses in his parables in Matthew 13. The grain is brought in safely, while the weed are destroyed.

Though delayed, the time for harvest finally comes. One of the barriers to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah was the fact that his first coming did not bring in the harvest of the final judgment. Even John the Baptist seemed to wrestle with that issue, Luke 7:18–21. Jesus’ parables about the sower and the harvest make the point that God has his purposes in delay, bu the delay does not mean that the harvest is not coming. The martyred saints under the altar had been crying out, “How long,” and had been told to wait. Now the time of waiting is over, and the Son of man is gathers in his harvest. “The common expectation was that the Messiah would immediately execute the harvest judgment when he appeared, but Jesus’ parables (the sower, the tares among the wheat) taught that he came to inaugurate the long-awaited kingdom of God not as a grim reaper but as a patient sower (Matt. 13:1–30, 36–43). Through sowing the word a seed, apparently so vulnerable to the world’s hostile environment, Jesus would launch a harvest of grace in his first coming and continue it through the church’s gospel witness (John 4:35–38). In the story of the tares Jesus made clear that the final harvest foretold through the prophets, when when weeds are separated from wheat, would come only at ‘the end of the age’ (Matt. 13:40). John now sees this final separation in his vision.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 209).

Beware of coming judgment. The Lord displays his just anger in the harvest of the grapes. The harvest is blessing for those who trust in the Son of man. But for those who oppose him, for those who have persecuted his people, the harvest imagery turns to wrath and judgment. As Jesus explains the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13:39, the harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters at the angels. But here in Revelation 14, instead of weeds, it is a harvest of grapes (John will return to fire of judgment later in the book). John uses the language of Joel 3 and Isaiah 63:1–6 to describe the Lord crushing his enemies, using the imagery of treading out the grapes in the winepress. The city seems to be the city of God, and outside of it judgment, catastrophic judgment, takes place.

God’s wrath is good! You may cringe at the strong picture that John draws. We may be uncomfortable with God describing himself as being angry, but that is because our anger, even when we are justly angry at some evil, is so easily mixed with sin. But God’s anger is perfect and just:

Anger, just like all things in life, has to begin with God (Genesis 1:1). First, we need to reevaluate how we think about the Lord and his anger. Mostly, we assume that anger is the dark side of God’s character that we need to keep hidden from the world.

Our heavenly Father doesn’t have a dark side! John says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). It’s impossible for there to be anything evil in God, which means God is both righteous and angry at the very same time (see Exodus 32:10, 34:6; Deuteronomy 29:28; 2 Kings 22:13; Psalms 2:12, 30:5; Romans 1:18; and more.)

Anger is one of God’s most beautiful characteristics – in fact, his anger is a bright hope for the world. Because he is righteously angry, we can rest assured that everything sin has broken will be restored. (Paul Tipp, May 14, 2018)

This judgment is vindication for suffering saints, both in the first century and today. Before you get to the new heavens and earth, before you reach the place where there is no death, pain, mourning, or tears, the blood-thirsty dragon and all his works need to be destroyed. God is both good and just, even in his anger.

Live as a harvest time people. The Spirit makes Pentecost the beginning of a greater harvest. If you grasp the way that the Old Testament Feast of Weeks anticipated harvest, you can appreciate the waiting involved as you look for the Son of man to swing his sickle at the final harvest. Leviticus 23:15–22 (given while Israel was still wandering in the wilderness) called on them to count—after the Passover, from the Firstfruits 50 days, and then to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Because of the counting of 50 days, it became known as the Feast of Pentecost. Psalm 67 came to be used as part of Israel’s anticipation. And the feast became associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai, because it was 50 days after leaving Egypt that Israel came to the mountain. It was at Pentecost that the Lion of Judah, the Lamb that had been slain as the great Passover lamb, but now had been raised, it was then that the ascended Lord poured out his Spirit on the fledgling church he had established. Before his description of treading the grapes, Joel (at 2:28–29) prophesies the outpouring of the Spirit, the text that Peter chose for his sermon in Acts 2. Pentecost was not simply about giving thanks and praise to God for the barley harvest, as important as that was. It would be about the Son of man beginning to harvest a multitude that no one could number from every tribe and nation. Notice the gift of language tongues which accompanied the pouring out of the Spirit. “[W]hile Pentecost/Weeks had always been a harvest festival, it was only after the events of Acts 2 that the nature of the harvest could be understood. It was not a harvest of wheat and barley that was on God’s mind and heart but rather a celebration of the harvest of redemption that had begun with Christ himself. He broke open the grave on Firstfruits as the ‘firstborn of the dead’—not just of dead bodies, but of what dead bodies evidenced: a dead-in-sin world (Revelation 1:5). And if he was the first sheaf, this fuller harvest was a bin buster, absolutely cosmic in scope.” (John R. Sittema, Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel, p. 84).

Be God’s harvest people. Jesus, when crowds from Sychar came to him in response to the testimony of the woman at the well, told his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers. The Pentecost harvest would come about, not by angels with trumpets proclaiming the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but by the apostles announcing the good news. As Acts traces that harvest, following Stephen’s martyrdom, the believers scattered, while the apostles remained at Jerusalem, but where they went they spoke of the good news. The harvest began, and it continues to go on. God calls you to be a harvest people by expanding the scope of the reaping of the grain. But he also calls you to actually be the harvest that the Son of man reaps and brings in to his Father’s house. He has given you the privilege of being what the Son of man will harvest on that last great day.

You plant a crop in April or May knowing that the harvest in the fall is worth waiting for. How much more worth waiting for is harvest of the earth in which your Lord will engage!

Songs of Joy and Shouts of Judgment

In Revelation John paints many visual pictures, which he wants you to see in your mind. But he also wants you to listen. Revelation 14:1–13 calls you to listen to a new song of joy—and to shouts of judgment.

Join in the song of joy. Sing because you belong to the Lamb and his Father. When you understand who are singing and why, you realize that you can do more than listen—you can join in the song. John listens to a loud sound like thunder and rushing waters, but also as melodious as harp music. The sound comes, apparently from the 144,000. This is a song of victory, see Revelation 15:1–4.. What they sing is a new song. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, when God accomplishes a new work of salvation, his people respond with a new song, Psalm 96:1; 149:1. Christ has purchased his people, the ultimate new work of salvation. Because you are among the redeemed, this is a song in which you join. The 144,000, introduced back in Revelation 7, represent God’s people in their fullness. 666, the number of man, falling short of God’s perfection, is contrasted with the the number of his people—12 apostles, 12 tribes with 12,000 from each tribe. It may look as though the whole world has submitted to the beasts, but God is redeeming the fullness of his people.

Sing a new song that angels cannot learn. This song is unique to the redeemed. The followers of the beast do not know it, not surprisingly. But, and you should be surprised at this, it seems that the angels in heaven, the true Mount Zion, cannot learn this either. It is not that the glory of God is concealed. Rather, this heavenly choir is composed of redeemed sinners. They have experienced the redemption purchased by the Lamb, not as awestruck bystanders, but as the objects of that redeeming love. You who trust in Christ have an experiential knowledge of his work that the angels long to look into. “The lyrics of these celebrants’ songs are secret, known only to them. The purpose of this secrecy is not to keep God’s glory veiled but to symbolize the the astonishing truth that sinful people redeemed by the Lamb are qualified by that experience of salvation to extol him in a way that even the purest, highest angel cannot. Into the mystery of our salvation even angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 204).

Live as those who belong to the Lamb. Notice the mark that the 144.000 have—not the mark of the beast, but that of the Lamb and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. They belong to the Lamb and to the Father. They are under his protection and care, even though they may have to give up their lives for his sake. And if you are among those who sing this new song to the Lamb, you live as those purchased by him. They, and you, follow the Lamb. Don’t take the description of not having been defiled as an exaltation of celibacy over marriage (married love is a good, ordained by God in Eden). Rather, note the connections made in the letters to the churches, and in the description of the woman on the beast in Revelation 17, between idolatry and sexual immorality. The prophets had described idolatry as Israel being unfaithful to her loving husband and Lord. They spoke of Israel as the virgin daughter. These are saints, male and female, who love their Lord, who follow him, who keep themselves from lies, and who are blameless. As a follower of the Lamb, reflect his character. What you will be in glory must be evident, even if faintly and imperfectly, in what you are today. This mighty army has been purchased as firstfruits. Not only do they represent the best and the perfect, set apart to God, but they are part of complete harvest, coming with certainty because they have been redeemed. “The Lamb’s army has been ‘purchased’ from the whole human family as ‘first fruits’ (Rev. 14:3–4). The term purchase recalls the earlier doxology to the worthy Lamb, whose blood ‘purchased’ for God persons from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, to become a royal priesthood (5:9–10) Here, however, John sees assembled in heaven just the firstfruits of a much larger harvest, the foretaste in miniature and in promise of a full harvest to come.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, pages 204).

Listen to the angelic shouts of judgment. The eternal gospel includes warning of judgment. In Revelation 8:13 an eagle had announced coming judgment with a triple cry of “Woe!” Now three angels, with loud voices, warn of coming judgment. Notice that the message of the first angel is that judgment is coming, yet his proclamation is described as the eternal gospel. The good news of Christ’s saving work cannot be properly understood unless one appreciates the awful nature of sin and the eternal consequences of it. Christ does not simply make us a little better, or help us to be more human. Rather, he has redeemed us from the everlasting judgment, that, later in Revelation we will see measured out to the dragon, the beasts, and those who worship them. The good news of Christ’s saving work involves warning of the wrath to come.

Babylon is fallen! Isaiah 21:9 describes the fall of Babylon. In his day, Assyria was the major threat, but a brief ascendancy of Babylon tempted the Israelites to put their trust in that kingdom. Babylon’s fall to Assyria is a reminder to Israel to look to the Lord, and not to men for protection. Later Babylon would defeat Assyria and would destroy Jerusalem. Yet, it too would fall, as Jeremiah 51:8 describes. Revelation 14:8 is a brief preview of the rebellious city whose destruction by God will be described in Revelation 18. The name becomes a symbol of Rome—and beyond that of all human powers that rise up against God and seek to harm his people.

Persevere because judgment is coming. The third angel outlines the fury of God’s judgment in more detail. Those who worship the beast, those who oppose him, those who persecute his people, will fall under unending judgment. The smoke, sulfur, and fire use language that Isaiah 34:10 used to describe God’s judgment on Edom. Judgment is coming. Flee from it—to the Lamb. “This calls for” (Revelation 14:12) is a call to pause and reflect on an appropriate response. Judgment is coming—so endure. The present suffering of the saints is temporary. The Lord does not ignore his people. The day of judgment will be a day of vindication and victory for those who follow the Lamb. Thus the angel can reassure you that death in the Lord does not mean he has abandoned you. Rather, you are blessed. Further, your deeds follow you. What you do in this life, your commitment to the Lord, your faithful service of him, is something that has eternal consequences. There is a close connection between this life and the life to come.

Listen to the shouts that warn you that judgment is coming. Flee from it to the Lamb that was slain—as he bore your judgment. And because you flee to him, join in the new song, one that is so wonderful that even the angels want to look into these matters.

Beware the Beasts!

Beware of bears” is a sign which you do well to heed. The warnings of Revelation 13 about a beast that is a bear-leopard-lion combined with something more horrible, a ten-horned beast, are in the Bible for your instruction.

Beware of the monstrous beasts. The beasts of Revelation 13 incorporate the beasts of Daniel 7. When we read Daniel 7 we often focus (appropriately) on the description of the Son of Man. But Daniel’s vision includes four ferocious animals. Daniel’s four beasts represent the successive empires pictured earlier in the image of Daniel 2, perhaps giving you a hint that you may not be far from the mark when you recognize repeating patterns in Revelation. That background also pushes you in the direction of looking for nations and cultures, not just individual leaders. If the first beast focuses on persecuting power, the second beast, rising from the earth, uses false teaching as well as persecuting pressure to promote the worship of the first beast. “Believers are to beware of compromise, not just with the Roman emperor, but with all the facets of the state in collusion with religious, economic, and social aspects of the idolatrous culture, which all epitomize fallen humanity.” (G. K. Beale, Revelation p. 725). Continue reading “Beware the Beasts!”