Many of the Old Testament prophets talked about the LORD’s judgment of Israel and the surrounding nations that had caused her to brake her covenant with God. In particular, Isaiah portrayed “the day of the LORD” as a time period when the earth would be turned upside down and Jerusalem “ruined” because of her rebellion against the LORD (Isaiah 2-3). Isaiah’s prophecy included a parable of the vineyard that expressed God’s disappointment with the nation of Israel and indicated he would judge them along with the other nations of the world. He said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down, and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:4-6).
Jesus told a similar parable after his authority was challenged by the chief priests and elders of the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:33-44) and then he went on to talk about a marriage dinner for the king’s son (Matthew 22:2-14). Both of these parables seem to coincide with the events that take place in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. After the second beast forces everyone “to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” John recorded, “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harps harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:1-3).
The 144,000 people that were redeemed from the earth are identified in Revelation 7:5-8 as being 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel that were sealed as servants of God. These people are not Christians, but are described by John as virgins that are the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). Although these individuals are referred to as saints and they keep the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12), they are not born again, but have apparently obtained salvation through supernatural obedience to God’s word (Revelation 14:5). John said, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). The purpose of these saints seems to be to stand by the Lord as he confronts Satan’s unholy trinity. The saints do not preach the gospel or try to convert unbelievers. The world’s last chance to hear the gospel is by means of the heavenly proclamation of an angel. John said, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of the waters” (Revelation 14:6-7).
The primary objective of God pouring out his wrath on the earth is to purge Israel from the sins that have been committed in and through her. The 144,000 Jews that are sealed by God at the start of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:4) may represent the remnant that God promised to save (Isaiah 10:20-21). Isaiah prophesied, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isaiah 10:27). The Hebrew word translated anointing, shemem represents the type of olive oil that is used to anoint a memorial or a future office bearer (H8081). Jacob used shemem when he set up a pillar and poured oil on top of it at the location where he discovered the “house of God” (Genesis 28:17-18). After the first angel proclaims the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), another angel follows, saying, “Babylon is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:8-10).
The last chance that God gives the world to avoid his wrath might be somewhat like giving a man that is about to jump off a bridge and kill himself a chance to turn over a new leaf; his mental state is too deranged to accept such an offer. Instead, there will be a great harvest of unbelief that will trigger God’s final judgment of the nations (Revelation 4:14-20). The prophet Joel described this scene by stating: “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12-14). After the final call to repentance was given, John recorded, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God…And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth” (Revelation 15:1, 16:1).
Just before the final vial is poured out on the earth, a gathering takes place in anticipation of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:14, 16). In the midst of this gathering, Jesus interjects with an unusual comment. He says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15, ESV). In his parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants, Jesus talked about the need to always be ready for his return because it would happen at a time that was unexpected. He said, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:43-44, ESV). Jesus’ comment in Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” seems to suggest that his second coming to Earth takes place just prior to the battle of Armageddon. John’s declaration in Revelation 14:1 that “on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (ESV) may have been the visual depiction of what actually occurs in Revelation 16:15. Afterward, the seventh vial is poured out “and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne saying, It is done” (Revelation 16:17).