Daily Devotion: The Winepress of God’s Wrath?

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Bible Readings for Monday July 18th, 2011
– The Week of The 5th Sunday After Pentecost

*Click on each bible passage to expand the text.

Psalm 75

Nahum 1:1-13

Revelation 14:12-20

  • At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. – Psalm 75:2
  • And now I will break off his yoke from you and snap the bonds that bind you. – Nahum 1:13
  • 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. – Revelation 14:19

The Wrath of God Strikes Back?

Great.

Thanks, yet again, to the Revised Common Lectionary, for today’s chilling readings which come right on the heels of my blockbuster post from yesterday about how Jesus’ “Furnace of Fire” actually supports the doctrine of Universal Salvation. In this very popular post (in terms of the # of readers), I made a pretty darn good argument for the biblical case supporting Universal Salvation: “Hell” as an eternal punishment is a myth, but the purification of man’s soul is very, very real and now. Water-tight, if I don’t say so myself…

And then today, we get the violent and terrifying imagery of Revelations 14:18.

The Harvest of the Earth

The passage opens with a repetition of the motif that Christ is going to harvest the world the end of this age. The harvest will be sorted in the following way: some actually live out their beliefs and show compassion for others (the wheat), and the rest do not (the tares, or “fake wheat”). This is not terrifying, and completely jives with what we covered yesterday.

To review, The fake wheat is harvested and refined in the heat of fire, a purifying process by which the believer is shown the consequences of their choices in their life and they experience first-hand the real and devastating consequences of their actions. For example, I might see that the homeless man I refused money to last winter then went on to sleep outside and died of exposure. The heat of the refining fire is a direct, undeniable confrontation of your wicked heart, which ALL OF US have.

Also, bear in mind that in the real-world, wheat grains must be dried in order to preserve them, otherwise they will rot. This is accomplished most effectively through the application of high heat. So, if we are to utilize this real-world analogy fully, we realize the truth is: all of us, whether wheat or tares, will experience the heat of the refining fire, either in this life, or in death. All grains must be dried to preserve them.

Okay, good so far.

The Great Wine Press of The Wrath of God

And then we reach the rest of the passage, in which it is no longer Christ who wields the sickle, but “another angel”. His boss is the “Angel who has authority over fire” and they are apparently the Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield of Heaven:

Revelation 14

Vincent and Jules

18. Then 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.”
19. 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.
20. 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.

Oh, God. This is the kind of disturbing, ultra-violent imagery that the wackos of this world thrive on, and makes the rest of us shudder. In fact, I don’t know if I can even love a God that would do something so monstrous:

  • God’s angels killed so many people in the wine press, that the blood was as deep as a horse’s mouth for 200 miles. A veritable lake of blood.

And yet, as my regular readers might expect, I am about to argue that things are not quite as they seem. The language of Revelation is deep and rich, and so we cannot leave this passage yet, with only a cursory understanding.

The Angel of Purification

First, I will turn your attention back to the angel giving the order in this scene: “the angel who has authority over fire”. The Greek word for “fire” here is pur (πῦρ). This is a refining, purifying fire, that transforms souls into the likeness of God.

In other words, we need to realize that this angel is actually “the angel who has authority over refining and transformation“.

The Blood of Grapes

Next we turn to all that blood.

Although we are shocked by the reference to so much “blood”, the bible makes regular reference to the juice of grapes and to wine as the “Blood of Grapes”( Gen 49:11, Deut 32:14, Isa 63:3 ).

So, I ask you to look past the violent, symbolic imagery, and answer me the following challenges:

  • Is the grape destroyed completely in the pressing? No, the pure juice, the “blood” remains.
  • Is a grape of a greater value than wine? No, a cup of grapes is a fraction the price of a cup of wine.
  • Which lasts longer, a ripe grape, or bottled wine? The wine can last for years, while the grape will rot within days.

The most obvious argument against this imagery being only violent and negative is Jesus’ own positive language about blood and wine:

Luke 22

17. After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.
18. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
20. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

“Blood” is of the utmost importance, it is not some nightmarish vision simply to be discarded. In the seemingly horrific language of Revelation 14:18-20, the Revelator is powerfully (if awkwardly) illustrating the final fruition of God’s covenant of mercy:

God is collecting us all, the entire world, and transforming us through hard and painful change into the very substance of covenant (blood/wine). We shall become the symbol of the covenant fulfilled. All of us.

This process will be undoubtedly painful.

Necessary Pain?

Why then, must this process of final transformation be hard? So painful? So much pain makes such redemption-through-transformation seem… evil!

Does it?

Is a woman experiencing the soul-shattering pain of child-birth experiencing evil? No.

Then why do we fear this pain of transformation?

Because we don’t want it. Not yet, anyway.

We like our selfish apathetic lives for now. We don’t want to learn to be selfless, compassionate, and cooperative with the other Children of God.

But we will… someday soon.

Trig Bundgaard About Trig Bundgaard

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and ideas about what I've written. Especially if it's contrary to my views!

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Romans 5
"18. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
19. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Comments

  1. Just an uneducated thought…..wouldnt you correlate ripe grapes from the vine as something good? I thought we were supposed to produce good fruit by being attached to the vine. doesnt the idea of ripe grapes allude to a maturity that is desired? Why stomp on mature grapes from the vine? The more I dig the more Im confused!

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