Reflect quietly on the wonder of all that God has done for you through the death of Jesus. You will not face condemnation (Romans 8:1).
17Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Still 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." 19The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath. 20They 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.
Right and proper judgement
On the cross, God proclaimed both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’. Precisely because sin was being judged by God and taken away by the Lamb, the floodgates of God’s mercy and grace are opened to sinners. The cross is both good news and dire warning. The good news about the God who saves for ever goes hand in hand with the dire warning of wrath. Not wildly volatile anger, but right and proper judgement on evil.
The picture is appropriately awful. Swinging the sickle, trampling the grapes. Two movements of the same final event. Growth cut down. Blood flowing from the winepress, enough to cover the whole land. There’s nothing nice about judgement. There’s nothing nice about sin. We can wince and turn away. We can feel embarrassed and try to render it innocuous. But if we find what sin is and does unacceptable and find ourselves angered by what we watch on our news channels, how much more does the utterly holy God? The passage describes the awful end of awful rebellion; not an awful God.
The warnings of today’s passage are as sure as the reassurances of yesterday’s. Pause. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. ‘Jesus will deal with rebellion.’ Say it a few times to let it sink in. As you do, think of the world around you for a full minute, a 60-second reality check.
This is immensely solemn. The end of time is the harvest. This is judgement day. There is no place for pomp, position or protest. In Genesis the question is asked ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Gen 18:25) Now he will be vindicated. Jesus used the harvest metaphor to illustrate spiritual truth: wheat would be gathered in; weeds would be burned (Matt 13:24–30). A crowned figure, ‘like a son of man’ (v 14) sits on a cloud with a sharp sickle in his hand, surveying all that lies below him. Here is the Lord Jesus.
The order to move comes, no doubt from God, via an angel emerging from the Temple. The time has come to put the sickle to use and to reap the harvest. God has appointed the Lord Jesus to be Judge of all the earth. However much Rome (in John’s day) or any contemporary source of power now might preen and puff themselves up, their time is limited and their fall certain. How important, then, to make right choices now. These may not be big choices, but each one helps to shape our character and, in the end, our destiny. We need to learn to take careful steps on a daily basis to identify with the Lamb and his followers. Then we can, by God’s grace, be part of the rich harvest.
If the grain harvest speaks of the ingathering of the faithful, the second picture is more sobering. Grapes are being cut from the vine and taken to the winepress to allow the juice to be extracted. This is not a picture of celebration, but of judgement – the grapes symbolise the winepress of God’s wrath against evil throughout the whole earth and the destruction of all the wicked: ‘He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored’.1
We bless you that we have a Saviour in Christ our Lord and that salvation is all of grace.
1 Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory’Colin Sinclair
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