Revelation 14 introduces the third and final cycle of sevens, which is also the fourth in a set of sevens:
Four Sets of Seven
Revelation 1 – 3, Seven Letters: Jesus’s letters to seven churches, with commendations, warnings, and exhortations.
Revelation 4 – 7, Seven-Sealed Scroll: The scroll with seven seals that can only be opened by the Lamb, Who is also the Lion of Judah, and our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Four marvelous creatures stand by the rainbow throne of God as the outer court of heaven is revealed. Angels, elders, myriads of worshippers from every nation, and martyrs fill the court of God’s throne room, which is the true temple.
Revelation 8 – 10, Seven Angels Sounding Trumpets: Seven heavenly messengers announce in sequences increasingly intense warnings. The inner court of the true heavenly temple is revealed, the golden censor of believers’ prayers now wafting to God. The story of Satan and his horde of fallen angels is given, warring in heaven now thrown to earth. God’s two prophetic witnesses give their testimony before the dragon and its beasts hold sway.
(Revelation 11-13, 1260 days)
Revelation 14-16, Seven Bowls of Wrath
Final Seven Plagues
The Apocalypse will speak of the Great Babylon and the Millennium before moving to the promise of a new heavens and the new earth the writers of the New Testament spoke of. Nevertheless, these seven bowls represent God’s final round of warnings, and first round of final judgment
Interpreters who see Revelation as prophecy fulfilled over the course of the Church’s history understand this final set of seven as God’s judgment upon the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. The bowls’ fulfillment began with the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars, and perhaps is still ongoing to this day.
Some scholars who concentrate on the time surrounding the Jewish War of 66 – 70 CE see these judgments leveled primarily against Jerusalem and the continued temple practices. Possibly the fifth plague involves the larger arena of the Roman Empire, referring to the upheaval that followed Nero’s suicide.
Other preterist expositors read this section as having to do exclusively with God’s judgment against Rome.
Alternatively, those who look to future fulfilment see global devastation the like of which has never been experienced before in human history. If the time of Tribulation has been horrific thus far, what now comes right at the end is unprecedented in dread, loss of life, and wholesale destruction.
Humankind will rise up in one last endeavor to defy God’s sovereign rule in what will be World War III, the Battle of Armageddon. The battles will wage on until the Lord Jesus Christ personally returns to decisively end this final conflagration and establish His worldwide government.
Commentators who take the broader spiritual view see a cyclical pattern to the three sets of seven warnings/judgments.
THERE ARE THREE SETS OF SEVEN IN REVELATION, WITH AN INTERLUDE BETWEEN CYCLE II AND CYCLE III
|Seven Seals (5:1-8:5)||Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:18)||Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)|
|1||Conqueror on a White Horse||Hail, fire, and blood burning a third of the earth||Painful sores|
|2||Warrior on a Fiery Red Horse||Mountain of fire turning a third of the sea to blood||All seas turn to blood|
|3||Famine on a Black Horse||Blazing star named Wormwood hurled into fresh water, making a third bitter||All fresh water turns to blood|
|4||Death on a Pale Green Horse||A third of all heavenly orbs are dimmed||Sun scorches the people|
|5||White-Robed Martyrs||Woe one: A star from heaven unlocks the abyss of horrors||Darkness covers the earth|
|6||Wrath of the Lamb||Woe two: four angels release three plagues, killing a third of humanity||Euphrates dries up, and armies prepare for war|
|Great multitude of those sealed to God are gathered to the throne||Seven thunders, two witnesses, massive earthquake, many die||Christians prepare, remain alert, wait expectantly|
|7||Silence in Heaven||Woe three: The Day of Judgment||“It Is Done!”|
However, this final round represents a completion of God’s warnings, which now have become God’s final judgment on those who have not repented. (In the preceding cycles, there is always a believing remnant who repent and put their faith in God through Christ). Trumpets were routinely used to sound warning by those standing guard in watchtowers, who now spotted the enemy marching afar off. Bowls, however, are meant to be drunk to the dregs.
So, in other words, if this is the same cycle of events simply seen from a fresh perspective, then what would be a “trumpet” warning to one person – who repents as a result of having endured and survived it – might be a “bowl” judgment to another, who obdurately refuses to acknowledge God or submit to the Lamb. The same event successfully warned the first person but became judgment and death to the other.
It is also noted similar disasters have occurred throughout history, and continue to act as either warning or judgment depending on each person’s response.
The Lamb and the Firstfruits
“Then I saw, and behold! The Lamb was standing upon the Mount of Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty four thousand having His Name and the Name of the Father having been written upon their foreheads.
“And then I heard a sound from the sky as a sound of many waters, and as a sound of mighty thunder, and the sound that I heard as a harpist strumming with their lyres.
“And they are singing as it were a new song in the presence of the throne and presence of the four living creatures and the elders, but no one was able to learn the song, if not the one hundred forty four thousand, the ones having been redeemed from the earth.
“These are the ones undefiled with women, for they are virgins: these the ones accompanying the Lamb wherever He may lead, these have been redeemed from the people, firstfruits of God and the Lamb.
“And falsehoods are not found in their mouths, they are without blemish, blame, or fault.”Revelation 14:1-5
In my view, this premium on virginity, and its perceived opposite of being “defiled” with women, is primarily to be understood in a spiritual sense.
When God called the people to Mount Sinai to covenant with God, the Lord gave specific instructions in how to consecrate themselves:
“Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, ‘Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.’”Exodus 19:14-15 (NRSV, italics mine)
The Law had not yet been given, with its exhaustive list of what made a person unclean. Later, the Law would explain that any bodily emission was to be cleansed. To be consecrated, then, meant not only to be cleansed and made free from any corrupting agent, it also meant to remain whole and intact, without any emissions.
Paul would also say, in one of his letters,
I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.2 Corinthians 11:2 (NRSV)
(Notice that both male and female metaphors for the redeemed of the Lord have been employed)
The chastity Paul had in mind was to remain clear-eyed and not be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Jesus addressed a similar concern in His letter to the assemblies of Ephesus, saying, “You left your first love.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke of the wise young women who came prepared to wait for, then proceed with the Bridegroom when He arrived. They remained alert, and they had come with enough oil to trim their lamps for the wedding procession to come.
Now, the scene John described is of Jesus appearing on earth, having arrived with the sounds of heaven’s choirs eternal singing mightily to the accompaniment of harps. Surrounding Jesus is this multitude of those who, like the bridesmaids, have kept themselves consecrated for this very moment. And like the bridesmaids, they are ready to accompany Jesus wherever He may lead.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg