This Tuesday, we will be reading through Revelation 14-15. Within these chapters, John’s vision reassures the church of its ultimate victory amid the current tribulations.
The Judgment and Vengeance of God:
The vision in Revelation, particularly in these two chapters, easily lends itself for us to have an understanding of God as one who seeks to punish and destroy certain people, particularly those who stand against God and his Church (or simply disagree with our conception of God and who is his church is). We this idea in vv. 9-11 and 19-20. But no Scripture can be read in isolation, particularly the fantastical visions of Revelation.
The challenge we have is reading these verses in light of the remainder of the witness of the New Testament. Jesus is quite explicit in saying: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . for you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 5:43-48. In other words, we must love our enemies, for in only loving our enemies can we obtain the perfection that God demands. Both Peter and Paul teach us that we should never repay evil with evil, but only evil with good. 1 Peter 3:9, Rom. 12:17. In the parable of the Lost Sheep, the shepherd does not seek out the misled sheep to destroy it but to bring it back home, and the Prodigal Son is not punished by the Father but restored by him. Luke 15.
The question is how do we reconcile the Jesus we meet in the Gospels with the Jesus envisioned by John? The traditional solution to difficult texts such as Revelation 14, is to interpret them spiritually, not literally. As Revelation itself attests in its concluding chapters, the purpose of the coming of Jesus was to liberate, redeem, and save God’s creation from the evil that had separated it from God. Therefore, as we read through these chapters and the remainder of Revelation, keep in mind that the struggle is not between saints and sinners, with the sinners being tortured and destroyed. Rather, the struggle is between the good and evil that inhabits every human heart that either brings us closer to God and to being fully Human within him or takes us further from God into non-existence. The battle and the judgment are against this evil for it is this evil that will be defeated and destroyed.
The 144,000: (vv.1-10)
The contrast to the slaves of the Beasts with the mark on their forehead is the 144,000 saints with the name of the Father written on their forehead. (Since 12 is the number of the completeness of God’s people – 12 tribes/12 disciples then 144,000 is completeness squared multiplied by the superlative (1,000).) These martyrs stand before the Lamb, the four living creatures, and the elders in the throne room of God in Revelation 5. Once more, the vision returns to the place of worship.
In the readings from last week, the Beast boasts of its greatness and invincibility in misleading the people of the world, but here before the Lamb is true greatness and invincibility. The question that is posed “Who is like the Beast and who can fight against it?” (Rev. 13:4) is answered here. It is they who sing a new song. New songs are only sung to celebrate a new victory, and it is their own victory over the Beast about which they sing. These victorious martyrs are the first fruits of God and the Lamb in the new kingdom that we will come at the end of John’s vision.
The Three Angels: (vv.6-11)
John then sees three angels. The first angel preaches a gospel of repentance to those under the influence of the Beast. The second angel proclaims the eventual downfall of Babylon – i.e. the powers of this world that the Beast upholds. The third angel brings the first two messages together by warning humanity that as long as any one continues to worship the Beast, then they too will be subject to the wrath of God. The angel’s message is that evil is being judged and punished and those that remain in evil will bear this punishment as well. Over the next several chapters, the second angel’s message of the fall of Babylon will come to fruition and the question is whether humanity will fall with it.
The Consolation: (vv.12-13)
The heart of this portion of John’s vision is in verses 12-13. Bookended between the Warning Angles and the Reaping Angels lies the very purpose of this vision which is the consolation of the faithful. John’s church is being persecuted. Some members, like John, have been exiled or kicked out of society and other members have suffered death because of their faith. The vision in Chapter 14 is a “call for the endurance of the saints” and the blessedness of those “who die in the Lord.” It is this blessedness that is the second of the seven beatitudes we encounter in Revelation. From the vantage point of John’s audience and oftentimes ourselves, it appears that evil is prevailing, but John’s vision reveals to them, and us, that this is not actually true and therefore, we must stand firm in our faith.
The Reaping Angels: (vv.14-20)
In the final part of this vision, John sees the Son of Man described in Daniel 7:13 (and Mark 13:26) coming with a sickle in his hand to the harvest. An angel says “Reap!” and the earth is harvested. Then a second angel arrives with another sickle and reaps the fruit of the vine of the earth. The fruit is pressed by the wrath of God and the blood from the fruit flowed five feet high over a two hundred-mile area. John’s vision is simply a more vivid imagery of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30.
As we discussed in our study of Malachi, the question presented is what is actually being reaped? John’s vision is non-specific. The reaping could be of the people who had the mark of the beast, and the Son of Man and the angels have come to wreak vengeance upon their enemies. The reaping may not be of evil people per se but the evil in people. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the wheat (the good) from the field (you) is saved and only the tares (the evil) are destroyed. The reaping could also be of the reaping of the fruit that the evil has born. Therefore, it is the evil systems of the empire that rely upon violence and oppression inherent in the system that gets reaped and thrown into the press. God’s judgment is not on his creation but on those forces that keep his creation imprisoned. Overall, that which gets harvested and destroyed is what stands in the way of the new creation.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is pork tenderloin and grilled pineapple. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago