Summary: The eternal gospel is more about God than it is about us. And it isn't good news for everyone.
What is the gospel? Is it really good news, or is it something more? The answer to that question is important because if we get it wrong it’ll affect two things: the message we give people who don’t yet know Jesus, and more importantly whether we think it matters whether they hear about him in the first place.
But before we examine that question let’s look at how our passage begins.
It’d be easy after the horrifying pictures of chs 12 & 13 to be discouraged. Here are the Dragon and the two beasts making war on the church, seducing national leadership, fooling the religious by their counterfeit miracles, binding people in an economic straitjacket and it seems that they’re invincible.
But suddenly the scene changes again. God takes John’s eyes away from the problems of life on earth by giving him a short glimpse into the reality of life in heaven.
The change of scene is indicated by the phrase “Then I looked” And what does he see? He sees the Lamb standing on Mt Zion. The Lamb is Jesus and of course Mt Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God. And who’s with him? The 144,000. We saw them back in ch 7 didn’t we? These are the representatives of the 12 tribes, but they’re also the representatives of the church. We’re told they are those who have been redeemed from the earth. They have the mark of God and the Lamb on their foreheads. And they haven’t defiled themselves with women. Remember this is metaphor. They’re not literally virgins. This is most probably an Old Testament reference to Israel remaining faithful or more often failing to remain faithful to God, who describes Israel as his bride. We’ll see that same metaphor again when we get to Ch 21. And what are the 144,000 doing? In a crescendo of joy that reminds John of the sound of many waters or the crash of thunder they sing praise that’s so beautiful it’s like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. Far from being discouraged by what he’s seen so far, John is lifted in ecstasy as he peers into the future that God has planned for him.
But before he can get too carried away, too excited, the scene shifts back once more to the earth, back to the carnage left by Satan and his agents. As John looks on it seems that history has at last drawn to its end. The next cycle of events is about to begin but this time its a cycle that brings on the last day. In fact we’ll see this last day played out in a variety of ways in the next few visions, but today, there’s just the one.
An angel appears in heaven proclaiming an eternal gospel to every nation and tribe and language and people. Well that’s not so bad. If it’s the gospel then it should be good news shouldn’t it? But what does the angel actually announce? “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
The hour of his judgement has come? That doesn’t sound like good news does it? And what comes next makes it very clear that for most of those who hear it, it’s terrible news. Those who have sided with Satan, who thought that he was winning, are in for a terrible shock. “8Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” “9Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10they will also drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” It’s a breathtaking message. One that we cringe from. Yet worse is to come. He sees one like the son of man. This may refer to Jesus himself, since that’s how he’s described in other parts of Revelation, or it might be simply a human looking angel. He’s sitting on a white cloud, and in his hand is a sharp sickle. This is the grim reaper we see cartoons of. But it isn’t a cartoon. This is as serious as it gets. The message comes from the Temple to begin the final harvest. But then the image changes. Now the reaper is reaping not wheat as you might assume in the first image but now it’s grapes, being gathered into the wine press of God’s wrath. The grapes stand for those who have defied God as king, who have joined with Satan in opposing the church, and as the wine press is trodden - outside the city, notice - blood flows from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles. Outside the city is important because it’s where Jesus was crucified. Jesus died to take our place in facing the wrath of God. But here we have this terrible picture of the last judgement being applied to those who have rejected Jesus’ offer of salvation.