Revelation 14: An Interlude of Images
As we said in chapter 7, the 144,000 represent the whole body of believers. The name of the Father and the Lamb is the counterpoint to the Beast’s mark. God and Evil are claiming their own before things come to an end.
The announcements of the three angels are strange because once again John has blurred our time frame. The Gospel proclamation is self-explanatory as are the hints of coming judgment. But Babylon seems to have pre-fallen. Once again John shies away from anything like a climactic battle scene. Babylon’s fall is somehow already complete, a result of the very crucifixion and resurrection which occurred before his narrative even began. The battle is already over, they just don’t realize it yet.
The language of eternal torment should be considered carefully. We return to earlier reminders that Revelation has specific characteristics that soften this as a universal principle. First, Revelation is indeed an internal document. It was intended to bolster the flagging spirits of the Christian community, not provide a coherent final doctrinal statement. Second, the communities who first received this story were under a combination of government authorized violence and harsh social pressure, oppression licensed by the seemingly invincible empire which had no accountability or reproach. Modern Western Christianity has trouble imagining a bright side to language of judgment. But honestly its because most of us are rarely in a position of powerlessness, where we earnestly need the rescue of external judgment to restore life. It doesn’t answer all the questions about this passage but it helps us visualize it in the context it was intended.
The image of the reaper and the winepress is perhaps the most perplexing in all of Revelation. On one level it reads very negatively. There is blood everywhere. Blood for days. It runs in huge rivers and streams. This seems like a bad thing. But the reaper is either Jesus himself or an angel reflecting the presence and glory of Jesus. Also, in the entirety of Scripture, wine imagery is always good. If the process proceeds correctly, ripe grapes harvested and pressed, it is always a metaphor for good. It is only a negative image when the vineyard is somehow damaged or flawed. So what does that mean here? I think the former combined with the locale “outside the city” point to martyrdom rather than judgment. The vintage being gathered is not God’s wrath poured out but the blood and sacrifice of the Saints who followed Jesus and found their deaths “outside the city.”