The conflict in John’s visions lets up for a moment, and now things are about to get loud!
John has a new vision, this time of the Lamb and the 144,00 marked on their foreheads for rescue and reward. Standing on Mount Zion in the ideal city of God safely away from the pressing of the grapes of God’s wrath outside of the city (14:20). So the praise erupts. A thunderous, cascade of harps and a new song just for the moment.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this scene? How does one ensure he will be there (14:4-5)?
- Avoid sexual immorality
- Follow the example of Jesus aggressively
- Be ready to suffer and sacrifice
- Speak with utter truth and purity
These qualities would have been especially poignant for the original recipients of this book. Life in the Roman Empire where they were being progressively pushed towards life-and-death decisions made them daily have to determine whether they were willing to remain unspotted like the 144,000 of this vision (maybe recent Christian martyrs like Antipas who had been faithful unto death, 2:14?). A little lie about their beliefs could save them some harassment. Avoiding oppression through participation in the religious cults of the Empire and the trade guilds (unions) of their towns would also place them into sexually immoral situations, for sure. Were they ready to follow Jesus’ example of holiness even to the point of sacrifice?
Many of us are not in the same immediate threat of physical harm and economic marginalization because of our faith. But the pull to engage in a culture that is far too sexual and dishonest is still very real. One can stand out too much in business and culture. One can be too religious, right? The call to faithfulness is one we need to hear too.
Maybe it helps to think like the second angel mentioned in this chapter:
Babylon the Great has fallen! She has fallen! (14:8)
Remembering that apocalyptic literature is stated in code, Babylon is certainly a reference to Rome. As Babylon was the immoral and barbarous nemesis of the people of God in the last part of the Old Testament, likewise Rome is to the nascent Church. The trouble is that Rome had not fallen. In fact, when John is writing this Rome is a great height of power. She still has the ability to make her mark on these Christians (14:9) and to kill.
Maybe the point is that to live faithfully in the midst of hard times requires end-time vision. We must remain focused on how things end, not how they are right now. We must bear in mind where each of the forks in the road leads in the end, not what they look like right now. The Rome of our lives have fallen. They are fading away. The Lamb will win in the end. A new city is coming where the harvest is gathered in for abundant living (14:14-16). That was certainly one of the reasons for this whole book: the give end-time vision to a persecuted people so as to strengthen their resistance. Often, we need that encouragement too.