May 9, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LIII: Treading The Winepress

Crushing Sour Grapes (Revelation 14:14-20) 

Once the Christians and non-believers alike take in the intoxication and wicked influence, it removes all desire to resist Babylon’s destructive influence and therefor binds and blinds one to Babylon’s own ultimate insecurity and to God as the source of real security. People will then become spiritually deadened and numbed against any fear of a coming judgment…and that is the trap. The immediate gratification and pleasure from sin will make the one who imbibes of it blind to the eventual destruction that this type of path of wickedness paves the way for. The third angel appears in the vision. Like the first two, he also announces judgment. He declares that if people give ultimate allegiance to the beast, they will suffer a fate much worse than death. In (v.10) we see the consequence of beast worship. Those who express greater devotion to the beast than to Christ in order to maintain economic security will be punished severely.

“…they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. Revelation 14:10

The phrase, “into the cup of his wrath,” reiterates the preceding “he will drink from the wine of the wrath of God” to emphasize the definitiveness and severity of the last. Those who have denied the Lamb will be forced to acknowledge him as they are being punished. Regardless of what Universalists or people like Rob Bell have told easily misled Christians of eternal punishment, there are powerful statements being made in the next few verses. In (v. 10–11) the idea of eternal punishment cannot and should not be diluted by affirming that the imagery of the verses have only a rhetorical function of warning, and does not convey  any doctrinal idea of a future state of punishment. That eventually through Jesus’ love all are saved because “love wins”. Love that does not tell the truth and promote the idea of perfect justice through God’s judgment is not justice at all. God judging all in the end and sending some to Hell is God’s eventual answer the suffering of things like wars, genocide and wicked sinful behavior in general. Without the prospect of eternal permanent judgement on the wicked, the scales of justice just do not balance out. On the final day of the Lord, the scale so justice will be balanced and all with get their just due, both believer and non-believer alike. All will be judged and they will either found wanting and condemned or found righteous in Christ and saved to eternal life in the presence of Christ Jesus. Therefore we see an exhortation in verse 12 to true saints to persevere through this temporary suffering in this earthly life. A suffering and persecution inflicted on them because of their loyalty to Christ, so that they might avoid the eternal consequences of loyalty to the beast and receive an eternal reward (v 13). If Christians remain loyal to the Lamb, they will suffer now in the present, but afterward will gain a reward of eternal rest in Christ. Just as Christ was rewarded after death for his endurance, and so will Christians, since Christ is their representative

“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They 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”. Revelation 14:14-20

This heavenly figure “has a golden crown on his head”. The crown identifies him as king over his people, who rule with him and also wear “golden crowns”. His crown also evokes kingship over his enemies (19:12). The “sharp sickle” is a metaphor of judgment.  Including the Son of man, there are seven heavenly beings in 14:6–20. Furthermore, the coming of the Son of man on clouds in the Synoptic eschatological discourses and elsewhere is always Christ (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). In verse 15-16 “Another angel” now appears and issues a command to the Son of man. The angel’s command could suggest that he has authority over the Son of man, who is therefore subordinate to the angel. This would clearly be a functional subordination to God is in mind since this angel conveys a divine message from God’s throne room itself. Christ must be informed by God about the time for judgment to begin, since “of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” Mark 13:32. 

The Son of man’s judgment is described through a metaphor of gathering in a harvest. He is commanded to harvest “because the harvest of the earth has become ripe.” Just as God determines harvest time each year, so God has determined the time when the end of the age will have been reached and when judgment must begin because the sins of humanity have reached their full measure and tipped against them. So the heavenly comes forth with a sharp sickle to harvest the earth. The presence of the Son of man in the first segment and the grisly image of trampling grapes in the second are taken respectively as suggesting redemptive and judicial imagery and/or a dual harvest is also supported by the dual aspect of the harvest in Jesus’ teachings, which may stand partly in the background of Matthew 3:12; 13:24–30 and Mark 4:26–29. The Synoptic Gospel parallel in Mark 4:26–29 stands closest to Revelation 14 although Mark does not explicitly mention the gathering of believers, though that may be implied.

The mention of “first fruits” in Revelation 14:4 could also anticipate an idea that more elect people will be gathered in later, namely in verse 15 and 16. Interestingly, “first fruits” and “harvest” are directly associated with each other in a positive manner in Old Testament offering passages (Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Numbers 18:12 and Jeremiah 2:3.

Of course it might just be possible that that the two accounts in Revelation 14:14–16 and Revelation 14:17–20 are describing precisely the same act of judgment since the images are exactly the same.
  • “another angel” comes “out of the temple” or “out from the altar” commands “in a great voice” another heavenly figure to “put in your sickle” and reap
  • “because” the harvest is “ripe.”
  • The commanding angel of v 18 is associated with a decree of judgment. This suggests that the angel of v 15 is also a messenger of judgment.
  • Whenever commands are issued from the heavenly temple or altar, they are always declarations of judgment.
  • Both are dependent on Joel  4:13 for the harvest imagery reinforces this conclusion, since the Joel passage contains only the thought of judgment and is the only Old Testament passage where harvesting with a “sickle” is spoken of figuratively, just as it is in Revelation 14. 
This leaves one remaining question. Why would there be two identical accounts of the same judgment in Revelation 14:15–20? Again we turn to the Old Testament pattern of emphasizing thing by saying them twice but in different ways. It is a form of Hebraic parallelism. The double narration emphasizes the severity and unqualified nature of the punishment, which reaches its climax here in these verses. The image of “treading a wine press” is without exception a metaphor of judgment in the Old Testament. The images of harvest and treading the wine press occur together, and they are both figurative images predicting judgment. The Joel text is the model for the same picture.

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