Understanding the Bible 51: God’s Saving Wrath – Interpreting the Harvest Imagery of Revelation

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Kirk’s 2nd Rule of Biblical Study:  Attend to the context!  That is to say, we must always keep in mind the historical, literary, social…elements that underly any passage of scripture (or any ancient literature).  And Revelation 14 is one of the chief examples of why.  Without understanding the context, Rev. 14 is one of the most distressing passages in the biblical story.  Look at v. 19 (NRSV):

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God.  And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

One could easily read this as proof positive of a vengeful and capricious deity – one willing to offer forgiveness and welcome for a time.  But who is equally willing to bring tremendous violence as well upon those who have not performed whatever acts of devotion are required to demonstrate allegiance.  (Hard to square this with the ministry of Jesus as we have understood it, or the continuing claim that “love is the name of the game”!)

But where modern readers tend to see threats and judgment, the early church found comfort and hope!  (And not by living vicariously through the obliteration of there enemies.)

Harkening to the exodus, this is a passage about God gathering his own to himself and overcoming the powers of evil that stand against them.  These “wrath of God” visions are not so much about the sufferings God plans to inflict on his foes (the foes were not reading Revelation!), but an allusion to God’s historic commitment to protect his people and to bring, in this case, all creation through the exodus to the promised land of new creation.

This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), September 14, 2014. To learn more about Canvas, click here!

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