So, what was your street like on Tuesday evening? I expected mine to look like a scene from Revelation with kids dressed up in various costumes as their parents took them out guising. But I only saw one group, with an adult dressed as “the grim reaper” replete with sickle in hand.
Beyond Popular Culture
In Revelation 14 we also meet someone with a sharp sickle in his hand, but this is not the Grim Reaper. The association in popular culture that someone with a sickle signifies death means there is a danger we misread this image in Revelation and read it negatively.
The good news is that it is not the grim reaper who holds the sickle in Revelation but “one like the Son of Man”. The picture is not one of death and destruction but of the gathering of the grain harvest. This was one of Jesus’ favourite images (Matt 9:37/Lk 10:2; Mk 4:29; Jn 4:35) and speaks to us of the ingathering of the Kingdom of God.
It is a picture of life! Remember, Jesus through his servant John is looking to encourage and build up the seven churches of Asia Minor, not scare them.
It is not only the “one like the Son of Man” who has a sickle for harvesting, but in vv 17 – 19 there is an angel who swings a sickle to harvest grapes which are then thrown into “the wine press of the wrath of God”.
A Tentative Suggestion.
I wonder who you think it is that is being trampled in the wine press of the wrath of God? In popular imagination, no doubt fuelled by Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, those who are trampled are the enemies of God (or in Julia’s case the Confederate soldiers of the southern states of the USA).
However, if it is God’s enemies who are trampled, this would be the only place in the whole book of Revelation where the blood of God’s enemies is explicitly shed. I count 17 occasions where John in his Revelation mentions blood and it seems to me it is always either the blood of the Lamb or of the saints. Spoiler alert, without getting too far ahead of ourselves the blood on the robe of the rider of the white horse in Rev. 19 is his own blood!
No longer under the altar
Back in Chapter 6, we had the image of the saints under the altar (a place of safety and security) crying out to God, “How long”? But their cry did not end with “how long”, they also asked how long before God will judge and avenge their blood.
In Rev 16:6 we have a reference to the “blood of the saints and prophets” and in 17:6 to the “blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus”.
It is, therefore, most likely that the blood flowing from the winepress is that of those who have followed the Lamb and remained faithful in their witness.
New Testament scholar Jamie Davies comments:
“The conquering army is an army of martyrs, whose blood covers the earth. As the song of 12:11 told us, they have conquered by blood, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death”.
If the blood from the winepress from “the saints” then what does this mean for us, how then should we live in light of this?
The text is ambiguous about who does the trampling of the grapes in the wine press. Yet, I think that this happens outside the city helps indicate who is doing the trampling.
The language here, that this is done outside the city, reminds us of the crucifixion of Jesus. The writer of the Book of Hebrews uses very similar language in 13:12;
Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.
The Gospel writers do not use the phrase “outside the city” they simply refer to the place where Jesus was crucified as Golgotha (Matthew and Mark), the Skull (Luke) or the Skull / Golgotha (John). John does say that this place is “near the city” (Jn 19:20) which logically means it must be outside the city.
A Participation in Christ’s Death
These links of language and imagery lead me to conclude that the trampling of the grapes in the winepress speaks of our participation in the death of Christ.
To speak of participation in Christ’s death is to simultaneously speak of participation in the life of Christ, and not just any kind of life but resurrection life! This is, after all, what we celebrate and witness to, in the act of baptism (read Romans 6).
I’m still asking, “So what?”
The winepress is not necessarily a future event, something we need to worry about happening at a future point in time. Indeed, John includes this in his vision so those in the seven churches do not worry or fear. The trampling of those who faithfully witness to Christ is an ongoing “harvest” through all of church history.
You and I are currently being trampled in the winepress. To be trampled in the winepress is to be on the side of Jesus in the battle Iain talked about last week. Everyone, every person is affected by this battle; the choice we are presented with in Revelation is to whom have we pledged faithful allegiance; the Dragon or the Lamb?
For some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, this trampling has meant physical death and/or violent oppression. For many of us being trampled is more subtle. It often takes the form of a million pressures and temptations to live by the values and systems of this age/our culture/our workplace/ our family of origin/ our selfishness, rather than live by the way of the Lamb.
On Sunday I hope to think more about practically what the implications are of this passage for who we are and how we are called to live.
I wonder what your thoughts are on the question, “So what does this mean for how we shall live?”
Set in Stone
Revelation 14 – 15:4 is literally built into the stonework of our church. Look above the main entrance when you arrive on Sunday, and you will see two stone carvings.
Closest to the ground is a circular relief of people playing harps. This depicts those with harps who sing the song of Moses (15: 2 – 4) the song of the army of the Lamb described in 14: 2 – 5.
I wish the sculptor, John Mossman, had not given these figures wings, as this wrongly suggests they are angels. They are not, they are you and I. Well, you and I as seen from the perspective of heaven.
As we approach the building, this sculpted stonework reminds us of several things. It reminds us that as faithful witnesses of the Lamb we are includes in the number of those who have overcome. It reminds us that God is Lord of all the earth, and we are called to worship him, to wonder at, rejoice at and reflect upon who God is and that his works are just, and great, and marvellous.
Higher up, near the apex of the entrance façade is a large angel. If you look closely it appears to be holding a book in its left-hand hand. This is the angel of Rev 14:6 “with an eternal gospel to proclaim” (that is what the book represents). This angel is also in a sense us; it reminds us that God asks us to participate in his great and marvellous deeds, he commands us to proclaim his eternal gospel to every nation and tribe and language and people.
See you Sunday.