Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (26)



Revelation 14-15 (2)


In one of the famous Peanuts comic strips Charlie Brown and his sister Sallie are talking about the Bible verse they needed to memorize for Sunday school. “Maybe it was something Moses said,” mused Sallie, “or something from the book of Re-evaluation.”[1] Actually, that’s a pretty good name for Revelation. That’s it’s primary goal – to get us to re-evaluate everything in the light of Jesus Christ! Richard Bauckham puts it well:

“We have already noticed the unusual profusion of visual imagery in Revelation and                                its capacity to create a symbolic world which its readers can enter and thereby have                                their perception of the world in which they lived transformed. To appreciate the                           importance of this we should remember that Revelation's readers in the great cities                                       of the province of Asia were constantly confronted with powerful images of the Rom-                           an vision of the world. Civic and religious architecture, iconography, statues, rituals                            and festivals, even the visual wonder of cleverly engineered 'miracles' (cf. Rev. 13:                                         13—14) in the temples all provided powerful visual impressions of Roman imperial                                    power and of the splendour of pagan religion.  In this context, Revelation provides a                                  set of Christian prophetic counter-images which impress on its readers a different                            vision of the world: how it looks from the heaven to which John is caught up in chapter 4.                   The  visual power of the book effects a kind of purging of the Christian imagination,                             refurbishing it with alternative visions of how the world is and will be.”[2]

With the two Beasts apparently in complete control the church needed the strongest form of “re-evlaution” that could be found. That’s why we have the garish, nightmarish images here. Those images reach their ultimate form in 14:14-20: the two “harvests.”

These scenes are difficult to interpret. The excess of the blood flow in the second is particularly troublesome: “and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.” Let’s see what we can make of them.

First, Joel 3:13 puts the harvests together: let’s note the similarities between the two harvests[3]:

Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the wine press is full.

The vats overflow,
    for their wickedness is great.

The vision of the two harvests, then, may well allude to this text.

Second, both have a sickle-wielding agent.

Third, in both the harvest is “ripe.”

Fourth, both harvests are completed with a swing of the sickle. This is not the way grapes are harvested which reminds us we are dealing with symbols here.

Seems clear enough that were dealing with the same event looked at from two different angles. Since we know Jesus is the “one like a Son of Man” (14:14) in the grain harvest, the second angel of the grape harvest must be associated with him too.

And then there’s the language of the grape harvest.[4]

“the vine of the earth” always refers to Israel (Isa.5:1-7; Jer.2:21; Hos.14:7; Mic.4:4; Zech.3:10; Mal.3:11). Jesus calls himself the “vine” in Jn.15. Reaping the vine, then, most naturally means a gathering of God’s people.

The phrase “outside the city” in 14:20. In Mt.21:39 and Heb.13:12-13 identify this phrase as the place of Jesus’ death. This suggests Jesus’ cross is in view. Johnson writes

“I think, therefore, that the blood that flows from the winepress “up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of one thousand, six hundred stadia” is the blood of Jesus, the vine of the earth, and the blood of his people who suffer with him. It is blood that makes the ‘gathering in’ possible. The judge has shed his own blood to redeem those who repent. Jesus swings his sickle and gathers in those who have been saved by his blood.”[5]

The amount of blood referenced suggests the scope of the witness of Jesus and his people. Blood enough to cover the world!

The grain and harvest visions, then, likely point us to the certainty of Jesus’ victory and the extent of that victory. In both cases, these images contest the claims or assumptions that Caesar and Rome rule the world. This is the re-evaluation the Revelation seeks to effect in its readers. Things are not what them seem to be. That this is crucial to a Christian’s ability to bear effective witness, well, check out Heb.2:8-9 an see for yourself!



[1] Cited in Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 253.
[2] Bauckham, Theology, 17.
[3] Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 263.
[4] George B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Hendrickson Publishers; Reprint edition, 1993), 192-194. and F. F. Bruce in Carl E. Armerding and Gasque, Ward W., eds. Dreams, Visions and Oracles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 8.
[5] Johnson, 264.

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