The number “666” stands in contrast to the perfection of the Lamb and the Spirit. Because this number is “the number of a person,” readers have tried to pin down the identity of this person throughout history. In John’s day, the name and title “Nero Caesar” was a likely candidate for the beast because Nero persecuted and executed believers, demanding obedience and even worship. Every era seems to have its Neros, those beastly characters who occupy seats of power and yet use their power to oppress God’s people. The speculation continues as to this person’s identity, but what has not changed is the message of hope in the midst of extreme persecution; that is the beauty proclaimed in this vision given to John.
14 The scene changed. I looked and saw the Lamb standing on top of Mount Zion, and with Him were the 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name inscribed on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven roaring like a waterfall and clapping like thunder. The voice I heard was like a symphony of harpists playing their instruments. 3 As I watched, they began to sing a new song before the throne, the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders. The only ones with the ability to learn this song were the 144,000 who had been rescued from the earth, 4 virgins who had not given themselves to sexual relations. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They have been purchased from among humanity as the firstfruits, set apart for God and the Lamb. 5 In their mouths, no lie was found; no blemish marred them.
6 I saw another messenger flying through midheaven. He carried an eternal gospel, bringing good news to all the citizens of the earth—every ethnicity, nation, language, and people.
Heavenly Messenger (with a loud voice): 7 Fear God. Give Him glory, for the time of judgment has arrived. Worship the One who fashioned heaven and earth and created the seas and the springs.
8 Another messenger, a second, came along.
Second Messenger: Fallen, fallen is Babylon, the great city! She has intoxicated all the nations with the wine of the wrath of her sexual perversion.
9 Another messenger, a third, followed.
Third Messenger (with a loud voice): Those who worship the beast and its image, and all who receive its mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 will be forced to drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured out undiluted into the cup of God’s anger. And they will face the torment of fire and the agony of sulfurous flames before the holy messengers and the Lamb. 11 The smoke of their torment will rise throughout the ages for eternity. Day and night will come and go without pause or cessation. There will be no end to the torture experienced by those who worship the beast and its image and by those who receive the mark of its name.
12 Here is the patient endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and remain faithful to Jesus.
13 Then I heard a voice call out from heaven.
A Voice: Record this: “Blessed are the dead who have died in the Lord from now until the end.”
Spirit: Yes, they will rest from their labors because their deeds remain with them.
14 Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, a golden wreath atop His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15 Another messenger proceeded from the temple and called with a loud voice to the One who sat on the cloud.
Heavenly Messenger: Take Your sickle and reap the harvest, because the harvest of the earth is full and ripe and because the time to harvest has come.
16 Then the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth gave up its harvest.
17 Just then another messenger proceeded out of the heavenly temple. He also had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another messenger (the one with authority over fire) came out from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle.
Messenger of Fire: Take your sharp sickle and gather together the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for the grapes are ripe and ready for harvest.
19 So the heavenly messenger swung his sickle over the earth, gathered the fruit of the vine from the earth, and threw it into the great winepress, which is the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside of the city, and blood flowed from the winepress. The blood ran deep. It reached as high as the bridle on a horse and ran for the distance of about 185 miles.