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NIV Revelation 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

What's so special about those who die from now on? What about the ones who died before?

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Revelation 14:13 alludes to Isaiah 57:1

The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart;
And devout men are taken away, while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from evil,

Those who die sooner rather than later are spared of more bad news to come.

Revelation 14:19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

In Revelation 15, there are the seven angels with seven plagues.

In Revelation 16, there are the seven bowls of God’s wrath.

they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.

These dead will have peace and rewards from the Lord.

What about the ones who died before?

They were blessed too. The verse is not so much about them. It's more about the timing of those who die before the seven plagues and seven bowls.

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The whole of Rev 14 gives information on ‘when’, which, in turn, leads to understanding why the time of their death is particularly blessed. The trouble is, different people interpret that information differently. So, I’m just going to delineate the bare bones of information provided in that chapter, then quote from an authority on the subject who I happen to agree with. However, I do not expect anybody to agree with what is quoted without them first having read the previous 400 pages in his book.

Scriptural statements in chapter 14:

  1. Standing with the Lamb on heavenly Mount Sion, singing a new song, are 144,000 people redeemed from the earth “as firstfruits unto God and the Lamb”.

  2. An angel proclaims the everlasting gospel to all who dwell on the earth, and that the hour of God’s judgement has arrived.

  3. Another angel proclaims that Babylon, the great (symbolic) city, has fallen.

  4. A third angel warns that all who worship the beast and his image will receive its mark, drink the ‘wine’ of the wrath of God and be tormented with fire and brimstone, their torment ascending as like smoke for ever and ever, and they have no rest.

  5. Verses 14-20 state that now “the harvest of the earth” must happen, the symbolic “vine of the earth” being full of grapes ripe for being “cast into the winepress of the wrath of God.”

Two time-periods seem to be portrayed here – prior to the final hour of God’s judgement, and once that hour starts.

But verse 12 comes before verse 13 and cannot be separated from it: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Not “Here was…”, or "Here will be..." but “Here is”. All the saints who are “firstfruits unto God and the Lamb” must have patience etc. All of them have the words of John to sustain their faith right up to the moment of death.

However, those believers who find themselves at that juncture of history where the final hour of God’s judgement on a satanically controlled world begins will, at some point, die, but they know what is going on even though the godless world hasn’t a clue. They know what the wrath of God entails and that they are not going to experience that wrath because they die faithful to their Lord. They know that divine justice is inevitable and that they are on the brink of the most climactic time in history. No matter how terrible conditions get, obedient faith, to the death, is their resolve, and they know the joy that awaits them. This heavenly Revelation sustains them, enabling them to ever keep their eyes on the Lamb standing on heavenly Mount Sion, to see that they will join him there, in glory.

No matter how many saints have died from the time of Christ till the hour of God’s judgement, they all had that heavenly Revelation. But those saints on the cusp of the hour of God’s judgement can pinpoint that time and know what is imminent. All of them, however, are “firstfruits unto God and the Lamb” (vss. 1-4). All of them are equally blessed. Now I quote from the book below:

“And who are these blessed dead? Why, none other than those described previously in the first testimony, whose lives manifested the patience of the saints, the keeping of the commandments of God, and of the faith of Jesus, even unto the death… This is to die in blessedness. Why blessed ‘from henceforth’? Because, the Revelation had been delivered, the last seal had been opened, and this final word of the new testament had been spoken. Hence the voice of blessing sounds from heaven, the Lamb in the midst of the throne having obtained the victory over death and the grave for his people, even for evermore. Finally – the third and last record – the Spirit himself bears witness. ‘Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours: and their works do follow them’. Revelation 14:13. How heartily the Spirit gives voice in agreement to the word from heaven: ‘Yes.’…O how blessed and condescending a confirmation from that divine Person who throughout their pilgrimage indwelt the saints, ministered Christ and his things, administered the gospel, and comforted them throughout that suffering, afflicted, self-denying, and persecuted way, to the day of their death,” (‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’, John Metcalfe, pp400-401, The Publishing Trust, 1998)

If I could use an illustration, it would be of different Christians at different times ascending up that symbolic mount Zion towards the glory of the Lamb. Visualise seven paths going up, the shorter ones having disappeared out of sight and round corners into the mist. Yet no matter how long or how short their path was, they were helped to persevere by the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and the word of God in their minds, the Revelation showing what awaited. Very many of them have long since died and are in that blessed company of verses 1 to 5. Yet there are many saints alive on earth right now who are also on the ascent but whose path will take them further into the foretold time – the hour of God’s judgement. They do not fear what they know will happen, for they are resolved to die faithful to the Lord, having a privilege of witness previous saints did not have, due to them having died before the final prophecies were due to be fulfilled.

All the saints are equally blessed, but note that the Revelation never says some of them are “special”. There is not a ‘special’ group of saints with the Lamb on Mount Zion who are more ‘elevated’ or blessed compared with others. However, those who are still on the ascent have an even greater “cloud of witnesses” to look up to as encouragement while they press on to join them as “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1). Just as the saints of the first century A.D. knew the encouragement of all the many saints before them who “were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, “seeking a better county, an heavenly” (Hebrews 11:13-16), so Christians throughout the centuries have been encouraged by a multitude more. The more tribulations arise, the more God's blessings are to those who keep their eyes fixed on the prize - fixed on Jesus, the initiator and propagator of faith (Hebrews 12:2).

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This verse is very easy to understand once the proper perspective is applied. Revelation needs to be read from the first audience perspective. It is also necessary to unlearn a great deal of religious teaching of men who got very confused by incorrect institutional dogma.

Place the time of the book in the 1st century AD, before the destruction of Jerusalem. (1) (2) Then, recognize that Christ told John, and the churches that ALL of the things in the book would happen "soon," and that He (Jesus) was coming to them shortly (Rev. 1:1, 22:6). Jesus told John in the first chapter, and in the last chapter, as well as throughout the entire prophesy that the time of those events was coming to those of the first century AD very, very soon.

The prophesy was for those of the first century AD who were waiting for His second appearance to them (Heb. 9:28). The only generation that could have a second appearance of our Savior was the generation who saw His first appearance / manifestation (1 Pet. 1:20). Christ was manifested in "these last times", and we know He was manifested in the 1st century AD, therefore "these last times" spoken of in the NT books were of THAT generation who saw and witnessed Christ's birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension (Heb. 1:1-3).

No other generation saw those events, therefore no other generation was in the last times (Gal. 4:4). The last times were never about an end-of-the-world destruction. They were always about the end of the tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:1ff), the end of the Law of Moses (Heb. 7:12, 18), and the end of the animal sacrificial temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:34; John 4:21). Once Christ became the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), then that earthly animal sacrificial temple in Jerusalem had to be destroyed (Matt. 23:37-38; Rev. 11:1-2). No other sacrifice would ever again be acceptable to our Father in heaven (Heb. 7:28).

Picturing the layout of Hades as described in Luke 16:19-21 with those saved in Paradise (Abraham's Bosom) separated from those in torment (Tartarus) by a large expanse which neither side could cross, and you have the conditions of the grave (Sheol / Hades) for all those who had died from Abel until Christ (Luke 23:43). We can see that prison to which only Christ held the keys (Rev. 1:18).

It was Christ that would open that gate and separate out all those sheep on His right hand, and all those goats (rebellious ones) on His left hand (Matt. 25:31-33), which He did after the temple was destroyed. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Hades was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-15). Hades no longer exists.

Therefore, everyone who has died in the Lord since AD 70, and very possibly since Christ's death on the cross (John 17:24) is now taken home to heaven as each one passes from this earthly life. The harvest (John 4:35, Rev. 14:15) is now an on-going, ever present process, every hour of every day that a soul in Christ dies.

The words "soon," "shortly," and "at hand" meant exactly that to those who heard them spoken, to those who read them in the 1st century AD. We cannot read the book written 2,000 years ago and expect that we are the recipient. The scriptures are preserved for our edification (2 Cor. 13:10; Eph. 4:15-16), so that we can know that Christ fulfilled all things (Matt. 5:18; 13:35; 26:56, etc). Revelation is recorded for all of us to know that Christ came in judgement against those who crucified Him, and against those who were persecuting His saints in the first century AD.

That judgement was not delayed, but swift. It took place in the Roman-Jewish war of AD 67-70, and that temple was torn down block by block just as Jesus had told His disciples it would be (Matt. 24:2). We now worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) no matter which land or nation we are from, no matter which birth line we come from. All are now welcome to tabernacle with God if they will only answer the call.

So, Hades is no more, and Rev. 14:13 has spoken to each generation since that destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 so that we can know that all who die in the Lord henceforth are safe.

Notes:

  1. Signs of Revelation-Part I: The Time of His Coming ShreddingTheVeil

  2. Revelation - DatingTheNewTestament

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To answer your question we need to have a look what was happening in the world prior to the scripture in question.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on

The world at this time (according to scripture), is in a bad way.Revelation 14:6-7 explains what is happening,

The Three Angels

6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The OP asks,

"What's so special about those who die from now on? What about the ones who died before"?

The opening of the fifth seal reveals important information regarding the ones who died before and also the ones who are yet to die, (namely), the blessed ones of Rev 14:13.

Revelation 6:9-11

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ 11They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow-servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.

It is altogether grim reading and a time when many people hope that they will not be a part of this scene of life in their life time, but the scriptures do give encouragement to the believers of Rev 14:13 because it is recorded at Revelation 14:12,

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

And there is a blessing to be had by the believers, by way of holding to the above scripture which takes Revelation 22:7 into focus and gives encouragement to the believers

‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’

Revelation 14:13

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on
die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.’

‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.’

The above scripture "strongly" alludes to the book of Hebrews at chapters 3 and 4 and starts to pick up on the meaning when the spirit starts speaking at Hebrews 3:7-8

Hebrews 3:7-8 Warning against Unbelief

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness,

And then comes a promised blessing after death comes,

Hebrews 4:1-3 The Rest That God Promised

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘As in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest” ’, though his works were finished at the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 4:9-10

9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.

Note the similar wording of Rev 14:13,

Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.’

Conclusion

"What's so special about those who die from now on? What about the ones who died before"?

The ones who died before are (Also) truly blessed, because they have rested from their labour and are with their Father in heaven, Rev 6:9-11. Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer,

The ones who die from now on are truly blessed because they hold to the words of Jesus and keep to the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation in a severe time of testing.

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.

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Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Why from now on?

Revelation 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

What's so special about those who die from now on? (Pentecost)

Paul explains : (1 Thes. 4:15-17 )

The above promise ( Rev.14:13) harmonizes with Paul's prophecy (1 Thes 4:15-17) concerning Jesus' presence. Those that have died in the Lord will be resurrected to heaven first, then those that die during the presence of the Lord will follow until the number is completed ( Rev. 6:11) The expression " until the number is completed" indicates that the number of those to be resurrected to heaven is limited in number.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (YLT)

15 For this to you we say in the word of the Lord, that we who are living -- who do remain over to the presence of the Lord -- may not precede those asleep,16 because the Lord himself, in a shout, in the voice of a chief-messenger, and in the trump of God, shall come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, 17 then we who are living, who are remaining over, together with them shall be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in air, and so always with the Lord we shall be;

Compare also Revelation 6:9-11 (NASB)

The Fifth Seal: Martyrs

9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O [a]Lord, holy and true, [b]will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who live on the earth?” 11 And a white robe was given to each of them; and they were told that they were to rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers and sisters who were to be killed even as they had been, was completed

What about the ones who died before? (before Pentecost)

"The righteous and the unrighteous."-earthly resurrection

The apostle Paul said to a group of Jews who also entertained the hope of resurrection that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”(Acts 24:15 and John 5:28-29) The righteous include those who lived before Jesus came to earth like, Moses, Noah, King David, Sarah, and many others. The unrighteous includes billions of people who never had the opportunity to learn about the true God, they will be given the opportunity to join the meek who will inherit the earth. Jesus said: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Mat 5:5 KJV) Compare Ps 37:11

Acts 24:15 (NET Bible)

15 I have[a] hope in God (a hope[b] that[c] these men[d] themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.[e] The manner of the resurrection of the dead will be as follows, they will be judged according to their deeds after being resurrected.

Revelation 20:13 New English Translation (NET Bible)

13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death[b] and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds.

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Revelation 14:13 refers to Christian Martyrs (Peter & Paul) persecuted by the Roman Emperor Nero (the Beast) for refusing to advocate Caesar's sovereignty.

Written as political satire, Revelation 14:9-11 alludes to "Nero Caesar" ( נרו קסר ) which in Hebrew gematria = 256 + 360 (Mark of the Beast, 616). The Great Fire of 64 AD would be the eternal memory of Nero & his supporters.

Revelation 14:9-13 [NASB]

9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”

What's so special about those "who die in the Lord from now on"? This refers to Martyrdom of Peter & Paul under the religious persecution of Nero.

[https://biblehub.com/library/pamphilius/church_history/chapter_xxv_the_persecution_under_nero.htm ]

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