Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 23 2013 - Revelation 14:1-20 – The grapes of wrath

There are some passages in the Bible that one cannot help find troubling. The bloody picture of judgment at the end of Revelation 14 is one such passage, as is the picture in 14:10-11 of those who have worshiped the beast being "tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever." These are pictures that do not seem to sit easily with the gospel message that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:16-17). Yet Revelation 14 also pictures an angel flying through the sky proclaiming the eternal gospel to all the nations, tribes and peoples of the world (14:6). How are we to fit together the message of the gospel with this brutal picture of judgment?

This is a difficult question and I attempt some sort of answer to it only with the greatest hesitation. Part of the answer, however, is to see that the salvation of God is accomplished through judgment upon those who oppressed his people and held them captive. This was true of the Exodus; Israel was saved precisely through God descending in judgment upon Egypt (more of that tomorrow with the Song of Moses). Revelation was written to address the situation of an oppressed and persecuted people. The prophetic promise that "Babylon the Great" is fallen (14:8) is the promise of deliverance for an enslaved people. God has heard their cry and will come to save them. As God rescued Israel from Egypt and as he freed his people from captivity in Babylon many centuries earlier, so also he will save them now from the tyranny of Rome. This is what is pictured in the apocalyptic language of the book of Revelation.

Salvation is accomplished through an act of judgment. We praise God that our salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ was accomplished when the judgment of God fell upon him; he took our place in enduring the judgment of God in order that there might be no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is the place where wrath and mercy meet. The wrath of God is real and it is terrifying; but it holds no more terrors for those who have found salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain (13:8).

The chapter begins with a picture of the Lamb who is King – the Messiah standing on Mount Zion. This glorious Lamb is also the Great Shepherd of his people, "They follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (14:4). He is the one who will keep them safe from those who seek to ravage his flock – from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear.

These promises did not mean that John’s readers would not face opposition and persecution. Rather, it calls for “patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (14:12). It calls for an unshakable faith and confidence in Jesus in life and in death (14:13) – confidence that God always has the last word and that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead means “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This is the message John had been given for the troubled Christians to whom he writes. This is his message to us.

Lord Jesus, you gave your life for us – you have purchased us and made us your own. Help us to follow you faithfully and confidently wherever you may lead us.

Peter Misselbrook