Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying Revelation 14. This is a chapter that has some very positive images and some very negative images. It describes the righteous and it describes the wicked. It mentions heaven and it mentions hell.
The chapter begins with a positive picture. It is a picture of the 144,000 redeemed and all standing with Jesus on Mount Zion and singing a song that no one else can sing. Last week, we looked at a negative image. We looked at what will happen to all who worship the Antichrist during the Tribulation Period.
While the righteous who die will enter a period of eternal rest in heaven, all who take the mark of the beast on their forehead or in their hand will receive no rest for all eternity in hell. Last week, we looked at the biblical doctrine of hell. It is a very unpopular doctrine. Some don’t preach and it and some no longer believe it. We talked about Rob Bell.
We also looked at six things the Bible teaches about hell. We learned that hell will be populated by wicked angels and wicked people. The devil and his angels will be in the lake of fire and so will everyone else who is not saved (whose names are not written in the Book of Life).
We saw in Revelation that hell is a place of torment and that very word “torment” implies conscious suffering. We saw that the torment will involve fire. That is mentioned all throughout the NT. Matthew mentions hell as fire. Paul mentions it as blazing fire”.
John describes it as a lake of fire and “fire and brimstone”. Jesus speaks of hell as “eternal fire,” “unquenchable fire” and “a furnace of fire”. We also saw that hell will take place in the presence of the Lamb and holy angels and that he will last forever.
Finally, we saw that not only hell will last forever, we also saw that there will be no breaks or periods of rest during that time. It involves a period of uninterrupted suffering for all eternity.
Before we leave this topic, I want to look at some objections that people have to hell. I want to do a little apologetics. We should not only know what the Bible teaches and believe what the Bible teaches but be able to defend what the Bible teaches. How do you answer common objections to hell that are often raised by skeptics and people who do not believe the Bible.
Hell and the Love of God
How could a loving God send anyone to hell? A loving God would not torture anyone, to say nothing of the majority of mankind for all eternity. Hell is said to be incompatible with the love of God. This is the Rob Bell’s basic approach.
He argues that God is a God of love and love wins in the end. How do you answer that? It is very easy to answer. Love is not God’s only attribute. The Bible teaches that God is love. It also teaches that God is infinitely holy and righteous. He must punish sin. Bell’s approach only reads half of the Bible. We have to believe the whole counsel of God.
Good People and Hell
Could Gandhi be in Hell?” Will there will be some moral people in hell? The answer is yes. The Pharisees were outwardly moral and Jesus said repeatedly that they would be in hell. There are two points which should be made in answer to this objection.
1. There will not be any good people in hell.
The Apostle Paul said, “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). Not only are people not good but Paul says that there are no exceptions, not even one. He does not say that some people are good and some people are bad.
He does not say that most people are bad and only a few in the world are good. He says that there are NONE that are good. Jesus said the same thing. He said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
2. Morality has nothing to do with salvation.
We are not saved by good works. If you are speeding and get stopped by a police officer, you will get a ticket. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good of a person you are in other areas of your life. You may be a great family man but if you break the law, you get a ticket. When we break God’s law, we are guilty.
Now that does not mean that God will punish everyone exactly the same in hell. The Bible teaches that everyone does NOT receive the punishment in hell. God will be completely fair and just. Punishment should fit the crime. The sentence should be proportional. Justice requires greater punishment for greater crimes.
God will not punish the best person who ever lived but was lost in the same way that he would punish the worst person who ever lived but was lost. Someone who is caught with a small degree of marijuana would not receive the same sentence in court as someone who is a rapist or a child killer. There are degrees of punishment on earth and there will be degrees of punishment in hell.
There are degrees of punishment in the law of Moses and there will be degrees of punishment in hell. Jesus said that so. Jesus said that people who lived in the cities of Tyre and Sidon will have it better on the Day of Judgment than people who live in Korazin (Luke 10:13-14). Why? Jesus performed miracles in Korazin and Bethsaida. They had greater light and still did not repent.
Jesus also said that some will receive a lesser punishment on the Day of Judgment and some would receive a greater punishment. He said that some will be beaten with lesser stripes and some will be beaten with fewer stripes (Luke 12:42-48).
The Bible teaches that judgment will be based on works. Revelation says this twice (20:12, 13). If judgment is based on works, then everyone could not possibly receive the same punishment, because everyone’s work is different.
God’s punishment will be completely fair (Romans 2:6; Jeremiah 17:10). Are all sins equal to God? All sins separate us from God. All sins lead to eternal condemnation. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) but all sins are NOT equal. All sins are not punished in the same way and some are worse than others.
Jesus said that some sins are greater than others (John 19:11). Justice requires greater punishment for grater sins. The punishment for someone like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden will be greater than for someone who is not a mass murderer. Greater sinners will receive greater punishment.
Hell and the Justice of God
Is it fair for God to send someone to hell for a few sins committed in this life? This sounds like a valid objection. Why would people suffer for all eternity for sixty or seventy years of sins. Why would there be an infinite consequence for a finite number of sins? That does not seem fair. It seems like overkill. How would you answer this argument?
This argument is good. There is some truth to it. Since God is a just God, He would not let anyone suffer one minute more than his or her sins deserve but this argument contains one fallacy. People do commit a finite number of sins on earth but it assumes that when you die you stop sinning.
That is not the case. The inhabitants of hell continue to sin for all eternity. They continue to hate God and continue to reject him. Hell becomes an endless cycle of sin and punishment, sin and punishment. Because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.
Hell and the Unreached
Should those who never heard the gospel go to Hell? How could God torture the majority of humans eternally in hell, even though most of them have never heard the name of Jesus?
Does God send people who never heard of Jesus to Hell? If people who have never heard about Jesus are safe, there would be no reason to tell them the gospel. If they hear it, they might reject the message
There is a major flaw in this argument about people who have never heard. It begins with a faulty assumption. It assumes that God cannot send anyone to hell unless He tells everyone the gospel first but people are not let off simply because they were not offered a pardon.
As Greg Koukl points out, we do not say to a serial killer, “You’re a murderer but you are not going to prison because we did not offer you a pardon first. We cannot justify punishing you because we did not offer you a free pardon”. People go to hell because they are sinners. They are guilty. They deserve the punishment.
Harvest of the Earth (14:14-20) – Two Views
The chapter ends with description of the harvest of the earth. It describes two agricultural pictures of judgment. Both mention a sickle and a reaping. What does this refer to? There are two views on how to interpret this.
View I – Judgment of the Righteous and the Wicked
One of the most common ways to read this is to see it as two different reapings. One is one by Jesus and one is done by an angel. Both hold a sharp sickle. The argument is that one refers to the gathering of the righteous and one refers to the gathering of the wicked. One is a positive picture and one is a negative picture. One is a good harvest and one is a bad harvest. They base this on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Two Different Harvests
Matthew 13 and Revelation 14 describe two completely different harvests. Both mention a harvest but if you look a little closer, Matthew is describing something completely different from Revelation.
1. The imagery is different.
One describes a harvest of wheat and weeds. The other describes a harvest of grain and grapes.
2. The order is different.
In Matthew 13, the harvest of the wicked comes first (Matthew 13:30). In Revelation 14, the harvest of the righteous would come first (according to this interpretation).
View Two – Judgment of the Wicked
The other view is that this describes, not two separate reapings but two pictures of the same event. The context of the whole passage is on judgment. The imagery comes right out of Joel 3:13 which is a picture of the judgment of the wicked. Revelation 14 is an allusion to Joel 3 where both harvests refer to judgment of the wicked. They emphasize two different aspects of judgment.
The grain harvest portrays the INEVITABILITY of judgment. Eventually the harvest time comes). The harvest of the earth is ripe (harvest time comes). The grapes are ripe (14:18) and the grain is ripe (14:15). The Greek means “over ripe” or “fully ripe’. It is time to harvest. Time is up. The period of grace is over. It is time for judgment. The bowl judgments.
The grape harvest emphasizes the TERROR of that judgment. The word sickle appears seven times in six verses. Jesus will swing a sharp sickle, which is mentioned four times in the chapter (14:14; 17, 18, 19). Jesus takes a long sharp sickle and begins swinging at people. The grapes represent people.
Once the grapes are gathered, they are thrown into a wine press and what comes out is not grape juice but human blood, so much of it that it actually makes a river that is two hundred miles long (the whole length of Palestine) and it will be four feet deep. It will be up to the horses bridle. There will be so much blood in this river that you could almost swim in it.
To understand this imagery, you have to understand how wine was made in the ancient world. Clusters of grapes were gathered and then thrown into a wine press. The grapes would be in a vat and the way to crush the grapes would be to step on the vat. This was usually done by several people (Isaiah 63:3).
Today, wineries crush grapes mechanically but in biblical times, you had to step on them. The red juice would squirt out to a lower container where it would be collected and bottled. Revelation uses this as an apocalyptic picture of what will happen to the wicked when Jesus will return.
The picture is all symbolic. Jesus will not return with a literal sickle. People will not be put in a literal winepress and crushed to death. There will not be a literal river of blood that is two hundred miles long and four foot deep but his return will result in judgment on the wicked, a judgment which is called “the winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19; Isaiah 63:1-6) and the judgment will be bloody and violent. The Battle of Armageddon will involve a slaughter. It will be more of an execution than a battle.
What application can we take away from this section? One very important lesson from this section is the need to have a balanced view of God. Some picture God as all love and mercy. He is tolerant, accepting and forgiving. God is pictured here as a Father or more like a grandfather who likes to spoil his grand kids, a cosmic Santa Claus. That view of God is much more popular, the view that God is a Friend and Helper.
Others picture God as all wrath and judgment who loves to punish people. They picture him more as a Judge than a Father. That view of God as a just judge is not quite as popular because that means that he has to punish people.
The fact is that the Bible teaches both. Jesus is both the lion and the lamb (Revelation 5:5-6). God is a Father. Jesus calls him “our heavenly Father”. He is also a Judge. God will not only reward the righteous, he will judge the wicked. Genesis 18:25 calls God “the judge of all the earth”. Hebrews 12:23 calls him “the judge of all”. He has a wine press of his wrath.
The Bible teaches that God is a loving God. Love is part of his being. The Bible teaches that “God is love”. John says it two times (I John 4:8, 16). It does not say that “God is loving”. It says that God is love” but, if that is the only thing that you know about God, then you have an incomplete understanding of God. The Bible also teaches that he is a holy and righteous God (Romans 1:18; John 3:36). He must judge sin.
God is not just merciful. The Bible says that God is a consuming fire. That is in both the OT and the NT (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24). Fire destroys things. They cause unbelievable devastation. That is talking about the fire of judgment. God does not just judge unbelievers. Sometimes he judges believers. That’s why the author of Hebrews says, “OUR GOD is a consuming fire”.
The Bible teaches both”the goodness and severity of God” (KJV) or “the kindness AND sternness of God” (Romans 11:22NIV). Notice the word “and”. That passage says that God is both kind and strict. That is strange. Most of us know people who are really, really nice and other people who are really, really strict but the Bible teaches that God is both.
The Bible teaches that God is good. The Bible says, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 107:7). He gives us all kinds of blessings every day. Jesus said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
Seven times in Genesis God said that what He made was “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The final statement sums it up: “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The Bible also teaches the severity of God.
The Severity of God
The Goodness of God
|Says God is a God of holiness and righteousness.||Says that God is a God of love.|
|Says that everyone on the planet is a sinner and all sinners deserve God’s judgment for their sins. It says that the wicked will be punished in hell forever.||Says that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Jesus took the place and died as a substitute for every sinner.|
|Says that there is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus. That is rather intolerant and exclusive.||Says salvation is by grace, not works. You do not have to earn your salvation or keep the Ten Commandments. It says that salvation is free.|
|Says, “If you don’t believe in Jesus you will not be saved”. It rejects all other religions and all other paths to God.||Says if you do believe in Jesus, you will be saved.|
|Says that after you die, there is no second chance. God does not let people who reject him, die, feel the fires of hell and say, “Now I believe in You. I know You are real” and then take them to heaven” go to heaven.||Says the worst of sinners can be saved. No one is too bad to be saved.|