The 144,000 represents all believers in their completeness, just like in chapter 7. Here sexual purity is a symbol for spiritual purity. Christ’s followers have been made righteous by Jesus and as a pure bride have kept themselves from Babylon, the prostitute and beast! Of course sexual purity is one aspect of spiritual purity, as is being truthful (v.5).
Next, three angels come to make announcements, just before the second coming, to warn those who haven’t repented that judgement is coming soon.
The first angel calls on everyone in every nation, tribe, language and people to repent and follow the eternal gospel. Matthew’s Gospel promises the return of Christ once the gospel is preached to every people group. The gospel requires turning to Christ – here the focus is on worship. The biggest sin of the nations is their refusal to love and worship the Lord. People need to come to Christ before it is too late.
The second angel announces the fall of Babylon, which will be developed further in chapter 17. Babylon the Great, the great seductress, is every earthly kingdom that sets itself up against God. Babylon seduces people to immorality, idolatry and drunkenness.
The third angel speaks more of the judgement of those who follow the Beast. The torment is eternal – the smoke rises forever, sufferers have no rest and no Sabbath relief. That sounds hard – eternal punishment rather than annihilation for those who reject God. Christianity is a faith of love – it has changed society, but secularisation turns love for others to wishy washy sentimentality. It makes it hard to imagine that everybody is guilty and deserving of punishment. The second coming ends the possibility of repentance. We hope and pray for even the most terrible sinner, we love our enemies like Jesus commanded. That is appropriate and right in this age, but comes to an end at the second coming – then we will see undiluted wickedness in all its horror and ugliness.
Verses 12-13 mark an interlude, bringing encouragement for Christians – endure in faith and know that if we die before Christ returns, that is rest! As Paul wrote – to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Lastly, in chapter 14, the Son of Man (Jesus) presides over two harvests, one of grain, v.14-16, and one of grapes, v.17-20. The grain harvest is likely to be of the righteous and the grape of the wicked. This picture is in Joel 3:12-16 too.
Which harvest will you be in?