A Voice from Heaven – Revelation Bible Guide Day 19
March 15, 2018
18This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.
Day 19 – 4th Thursday
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.
6Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
9Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
12Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.
13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
14Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So 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. 20And 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.
Points of Interest
- “the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion” – The fifth of Revelation’s seven worship scenes begins with the Lamb atop Jerusalem’s mountain. In John’s spiritual tradition, this is tantamount to saying Jesus is standing up as King of the world.
- “a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters” – Jesus’ beautiful and powerful voice is mingled with the songs of the people Jesus has redeemed. While some people have been busy buying into Empire, Jesus has been buying into the songs and freedom of people.
- “they are virgins” – As with just about everything in Revelation, reading this literally doesn’t do service to the text. Sexual purity is used extensively in the Bible and in apocalyptic literature as a symbol for devotion to God. The worshippers aren’t buying the lying seduction of Empire, be it the gods of Rome or the promises of Western consumer capitalism.
- “another angel” – The rest of the chapter is structured around seven messengers of God – three angels, a Christ-like figure on a cloud, and then three more angels.
- “the hour of his judgment has come” – The message of the angels is judgment. I’d like to suggest we read these symbols of judgment less as punishment, and more as truth telling and exposure. Revelation’s purpose isn’t to threaten but to literally reveal how God is with us and how God sees things. From God’s perspective, the promises of civic religion – peace and victory for Rome, life and liberty and happiness in our time – are bankrupt. They lead us away from God’s “springs of water” and into “the wine of wrath,” away from health and toward that which intoxicates us but leaves us worse off.
- “fire and sulfur” – If you’ve ever wondered where the expression “fire and brimstone” comes from, this is the spot. Brimstone is sulfur, a long and slow-burning, nasty smelling rock. John’s vivid language is polemical, meant to scare people out of compromise.
- “Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord” – There’s a note of comfort in this passage, that people who hold to the faith of Jesus and die – whether naturally or through violence – will rest with God and be gathered to God in the metaphorical grain harvest of vs. 14-16.
- “the great winepress of the wrath of God” – The grain harvest is followed by a grape harvest, which is less comforting. John didn’t invent the phrase “blood as high as a horse” but borrowed it from common use in apocalyptic literature, to evoke the violence that comes to the enemies of God who live by violence themselves. It’s ironic that in American history, the phrase “grapes of wrath” borrowed from this passage came to be used in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to threaten the violence America’s armies would do to our enemies, as if a violent God is on the side of our country. This is the language and behavior of the dragon or the best, not of God’s Kingdom.
This week, we’ll respond to the idea of judgment by practicing critique and truth telling – noticing places in our own contemporary American consumer empire that overpromise, lie, or do violence. Ask God if there are places in your life where you have seen God as on your side, or the side of your country and group, and cheered on harm to your enemy. Seek God’s forgiveness and a faith and mindset free of this pollution.
A Direction for Prayer
For your six, that they would have the perspective to notice false promises they have believed in. Ask God for their redemption and freedom.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. On Sundays, we’re exploring this with our sermons; on weekdays, we’re doing so with our bible guide. The bible guide series starts here.