John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. And I saw on mount Sion - The heavenly Sion. An hundred forty-four thousand - Either those out of all mankind who had been the most eminently holy, or the most holy out of the twelve tribes of Israel the same that were mentioned, Revelation 7:4, and perhaps also, Revelation 16:2. But they were then in the world, and were sealed in their foreheads, to preserve them from the plagues that were to follow. They are now in safety, and have the name of the Lamb and of his Father written on their foreheads, as being the redeemed of God and of the Lamb, his now unalienable property. This prophecy often introduces the inhabitants of heaven as a kind of chorus with great propriety and elegance. The church above, making suitable reflections on the grand events which are foretold in this book, greatly serves to raise the attention of real Christians, and to teach the high concern they have in them. Thus is the church on earth instructed, animated, and encouraged, by the sentiments temper, and devotion of the church in heaven.
Verse 2. And I heard a sound out of heaven - Sounding clearer and clearer: first, at a distance, as the sound of many waters or thunders; and afterwards, being nearer, it was as of harpers harping on their harps. It sounded vocally and instrumentally at once.
Verse 3. And they - The hundred forty-four thousand-Sing a new song - and none could learn that song - To sing and play it in the same manner. But the hundred forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth - From among men; from all sin.
Verse 4. These are they who had not been defiled with women - It seems that the deepest defilement, and the most alluring temptation, is put for every other. They are virgins - Unspotted souls; such as have preserved universal purity. These are they who follow the Lamb - Who are nearest to him. This is not their character, but their reward Firstfruits - Of the glorified spirits. Who is ambitious to be of this number?
Verse 5. And in their month there was found no guile - Part for the whole. Nothing untrue, unkind, unholy. They are without fault - Having preserved inviolate a virgin purity both of soul and body.
Verse 6. And I saw another angel - A second is mentioned, verse 8; a third, verse 9. Revelation 14:8,9 These three denote great messengers of God with their assistants; three men who bring messages from God to men. The first exhorts to the fear and worship of God; he second proclaims the fall of Babylon; the third gives warning concerning the beast. Happy are they who make the right use of these divine messages! Flying -Going on swiftly. In the midst of heaven - Breadthways. Having an everlasting gospel - Not the gospel, properly so called; but a gospel, or joyful message, which was to have an influence on all ages. To preach to every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people - Both to Jew and gentile, even as far as the authority of the beast had extended.
Verse 7. Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come - The joyful message is properly this, that the hour of God's judgment is come. And hence is that admonition drawn, Fear God and give glory to him. They who do this will not worship the beast, neither any image or idol whatsoever. And worship him that made - Whereby he is absolutely distinguished from idols of every kind. The heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and fountains of water - And they who worship him shall be delivered when the angels pour out their phials on the earth, sea, fountains of water, on the sun, and in the air.
Verse 8. And another angel followed, saying, Babylon is fallen -With the overthrow of Babylon, that of all the enemies of Christ, and, consequently, happier times, are connected. Babylon the great - So the city of Rome is called upon many accounts. Babylon was magnificent, strong, proud, powerful. So is Rome also. Babylon was first, Rome afterwards, the residence of the emperors of the world. What Babylon was to Israel of old, Rome hath been both to the literal and spiritual "Israel of God." Hence the liberty of the ancient Jews was connected with the overthrow of the Babylonish empire. And when Rome is finally overthrown, then the people of God will be at liberty. Whenever Babylon is mentioned in this book, the great is added, to teach us that Rome then commenced Babylon, when it commenced the great city; when it swallowed up the Grecian monarchy and its fragments, Syria in particular; and, in consequence of this, obtained dominion over Jerusalem about sixty years before the birth of Christ. Then it began, but it will not cease to be Babylon till it is finally destroyed. Its spiritual greatness began in the fifth century, and increased from age to age. It seems it will come to its utmost height just before its final overthrow. Her fornication is her idolatry; invocation of saints and angels; worship of images; human traditions; with all that outward pomp, yea, and that fierce and bloody zeal, wherewith she pretends to serve God. But with spiritual fornication, as elsewhere, so in Rome, fleshly fornication is joined abundantly. Witness the stews there, licensed by the Pope, which are no inconsiderable branch of his revenue. This is fitly compared, to wine, because of its intoxicating nature. Of this wine she hath, indeed, made all nations drink - More especially by her later missions. We may observe, this making them drink is not ascribed to the beast, but to Babylon. For Rome itself, the Roman inquisitions, congregations, and Jesuits, continually propagate the idolatrous doctrines and practices, with or without the consent of this or that Pope, who himself is not secure from their censure.
Verse 9. And a third angel followed - At no great distance of time. Saying, If any one worship the wild beast - This worship consists, partly in an inward submission, a persuasion that all who are subject to Christ must be subject to the beast or they cannot receive the influences of divine grace, or, as their expression is, there is no salvation out of their church; partly in a suitable outward reverence to the beast himself, and consequently to his image.
Verse 10. He shall drink - With Babylon, Revelation 16:19. And shall be tormented - With the beast, Revelation 20:10. In all the scripture there is not another so terrible threatening as this. And God by this greater fear arms his servants against the fear of the beast. The wrath of God, which is poured unmixed -Without any mixture of mercy; without hope. Into the cup of his indignation - And is no real anger implied in all this? O what will not even wise men assert, to serve an hypothesis!
Verse 11. And the smoke - From the fire and brimstone wherein they are tormented. Ascendeth for ever and ever - God grant thou and I may never try the strict, literal eternity of this torment!
Verse 12. Here is the patience of the saints - Seen, in suffering all things rather than receive this mark. Who keep the commandments of God - The character of all true saints; and particularly the great command to believe in Jesus.
Verse 13. And I heard a voice - This is most seasonably heard when the beast is in his highest power and fury. Out of heaven -Probably from a departed saint. Write - He was at first commanded to write the whole book. Whenever this is repeated it denotes something peculiarly observable. Happy are the dead - From henceforth particularly: 1. Because they escape the approaching calamities: 2. Because they already enjoy so near an approach to glory. Who die in the Lord - In the faith of the Lord Jesus. For they rest - No pain, no purgatory follows; but pure, unmixed happiness. From their labours - And the more laborious their life was, the sweeter is their rest. How different this state from that of those, verse 11, Revelation 14:11 who "have no rest day or night!" Reader, which wilt thou choose? Their works - Each one's peculiar works. Follow - or accompany them; that is, the fruit of their works. Their works do not go before to procure them admittance into the mansions of joy; but they follow them when admitted.
Verse 14. In the following verses, under the emblem of an harvest and a vintage, are signified two general visitations; first, many good men are taken from the earth by the harvest; then many sinners during the vintage. The latter is altogether a penal visitation; the former seems to be altogether gracious. Here is no reference in either to the day of judgment, but to a season which cannot be far off. And I saw a white cloud - An emblem of mercy. And on the cloud sat one like a son of man - An angel in an human shape, sent by Christ, the Lord both of the vintage and of the harvest. Having a golden crown on his head - In token of his high dignity. And a sharp sickle in his hand - The sharper the welcomer to the righteous.
Verse 15. And another angel came out of the temple - "Which is in heaven," verse 17. Revelation 14:17 Out of which came the judgments of God in the appointed seasons.
Verse 16. Crying - By the command of God. Thrust in thy sickle, for the harvest is ripe - This implies an high degree of holiness in those good men, and an earnest desire to be with God.
Verse 18. And another angel from the altar - Of burnt offering; from whence the martyrs had cried for vengeance. Who had power over fire - As "the angel of the waters," Revelation 16:5, had over water. Cried, saying, Lop off the clusters of the vine of the earth - All the wicked are considered as constituting one body.
Verse 20. And the winepress was trodden - By the Son of God, Revelation 19:15. Without the city - Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, "The city," immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses' bridles - So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs - So far! at least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.
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