A choice to make

Slices

Prepare

People are uncomfortable with the idea of God’s judgement, yet social media pile-ons and ‘cancel culture’ reveal a deep longing for justice and restitution. Ask God to show you any contradictions in your own attitudes to judgement.
 

Bible passage

Revelation 14:6–20

The three angels

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. 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.’

A second angel followed and said, ‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 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 sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’ 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

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 labour, for their deeds will follow them.’

Harvesting the earth and trampling the winepress

14 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. 15 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.’ 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 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.’ 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 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.

Word Live126

Explore

In this passage John assumes that everyone worships something. There is therefore a choice to be made between two stark alternatives: in Revelation’s ‘worship war’, angels (v 6) call individuals from ‘every nation, tribe, language and people’ (v 6) to ‘fear God and give him glory’ (v 7a), pitting the worship of the Creator against the idolatrous worship of the beast (vs 9–11). 

John uses two metaphors of harvest, one of grain (vs 14,15) and the other of grapes (v 19), to introduce the rest of the themes of Revelation – the gathering of God’s people and the judgement that is coming to Rome. The great harvest of vs 14–16 refers to the salvation of people from every nation (Zechariah 2:11; Isaiah 49:6; Jeremiah 16:19), while the trampling of the grapes of wrath in verses 17–20 depicts God’s judgement on his enemies. John alludes to the certain doom that will come to an empire that appears as all-powerful. Rome, as ‘Babylon the Great’, will inevitably fall (v 8). 

Author
Michele Smart

Respond

At the end of Revelation 13, it almost seemed like Satan and the antichrist might win, but Revelation 14 shows who is really triumphant, powerful and in control: God, his Messiah and his people. Praise him for that. 
 

Deeper Bible study

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’1

The startling images of judgement here draw on earlier images in the book and anticipate the scenes of judgement coming later. We need to note three things to read this well and make sense of it. 

First, the phrase ‘tormented with burning sulphur’ (v 10) seems gruesome to the modern ear and has led some to believe in God’s judgement as ‘eternal conscious torment’. However, ‘the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever’ (v 11) parallels the similar phrase about Babylon.2 Both come from Old Testament images of the destruction.3 A city cannot be continually destroyed; the point about the smoke rising for ever and ever is that the destruction is final; the focus is not on the process of judgement, but its result. Second, the strange phrase ‘the maddening wine’ (v 8) is an exact parallel to the ‘wine of God’s fury’ (v 10), though English translations obscure this. So, John is saying, if you allow yourself to be seduced by the lies of Babylon, you will get what you deserve. This is another way of saying ‘People reap what they sow’4 or, as Paul expresses it, God gives people over to the consequences of their decisions5 – as part of giving us real responsibility for our actions. Third, the message of judgement is bracketed with good news. It is introduced with the announcement of the ‘eternal gospel’ by an angel ‘flying in mid-air’ (v 6) – that is, in a place where all can see and hear the invitation – and ends with the ‘rest’ (v 13) that is found only in Jesus. The last word of Revelation is a word of hope: ‘let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life’.6

How does the message of God’s just judgement offer hope to the oppressed and those who have been abused? Where do I need to find this hope in my life?

1Lam 3:22,23, ESV  2Rev 18:9,18  3Isa 34:10  4Gal 6:7, TNIV; cf Hos 8:7  5Rom 1:24  6Rev 22:17, TNIV

Author
Ian Paul

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: 2 Samuel 17,18; Psalms 52–54

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