JUDGMENT AND HOPE
Gracious Lord, may the work of my hands praise you and may the intentions of my heart honor you.
Read REVELATION 14:6-20
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.”
8 A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’[a] which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
9 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 sulfur 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 labor, 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[b] 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.[c]
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘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 judgment here draw on earlier images in the book and anticipate the scenes of judgment 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 judgment as ‘eternal conscious torment’. However, ‘the smoke of their torment will rise forever 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 forever and ever is that the destruction is final; the focus is not on the process of judgment, 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 judgment 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 judgment offer hope to the oppressed and those who have been abused? Where do I need to find this hope in my life?
Heavenly Father, I ask that my questions will lead to understanding, my uncertainties will lead to trust, and my honest faith will lead to hope.
1 Lam 3:22,23, ESV 2 Rev 18:9,18 3 Isa 34:10 4 Gal 6:7, TNIV; cf Hos 8:7 5 Rom 1:24 6 Rev 22:17, TNIV
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