bible blog 1580


Policeman not endited for killing

Policeman not endited for killing

Apocalypse 14:14-19 ©
In my vision I, John, saw a white cloud and, sitting on it, one like a son of man with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the sanctuary, and shouted aloud to the one sitting on the cloud, ‘Put your sickle in and reap: harvest time has come and the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ Then the one sitting on the cloud set his sickle to work on the earth, and the earth’s harvest was reaped.

Another angel, who also carried a sharp sickle, came out of the temple in heaven, and the angel in charge of the fire left the altar and shouted aloud to the one with the sharp sickle, ‘Put your sickle in and cut all the bunches off the vine of the earth; all its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel set his sickle to work on the earth and harvested the whole vintage of the earth and put it into a huge winepress, the winepress of God’s anger.

One source of this vision is the savage prophecy in Isaiah chapter 63 of the day when God will take revenge on the nations who have attacked his people:
Who is this coming
from Bozrah[a] in Edom
with clothes stained red?
Who is this hero marching
in his glorious uniform?
“It’s me, the Lord!
I have won the battle,
and I can save you!”

What are those red spots?
Your clothes look stained
from stomping on grapes.[b]

“I alone stomped the grapes!
None of the nations helped.
I stomped nations in my anger
and stained my clothes
with their blood.

I did this because I wanted
to take revenge—
the time had come
to rescue my people.

No one was there to help me
or to give support;
my mighty arm won the battle,
strengthened by my anger.

In my fury I stomped on nations
and made them drunk;
their blood poured out
everywhere on earth.”

Roman image of treadng winepress (1st cent)

Roman image of treading winepress (1st cent)

The other source are the many parables of Jesus which use the image of the harvest for the arrival of God’s rule, perhaps especially the one where the gardener asks the owner to delay cutting down a barren tree. In John’s vision there is no more delay; harvest time is here; judgement has come. The vision appears wholly negative, as it focuses only on those earthly powers which have ruled the world. Earlier Babylon, the code name for the Roman Empire was mentioned as giving all nations the wine cup of retribution to drink. In a sense the “wrath of God” is simply the accumulated evil of the great world power, let loose upon itself. But the prophet envisions the complete destruction of the world empire, which has elevated its rulers to the position of deities. Those who have not bowed down to the beast of empire, have already been rescued from this judgement. 

The vision commuicates a sense of satisfaction or even pleasure in the anger of God. Some Christian people are disturbed by this. Not me. I’ve enough experience of the the way the rich have treated the poor and the powerful treated the weak, to relish the thought that the gilded clones of celebrity and the faceless bringers of death are one day going to get theirs. Should I try to be more Christian than Jesus who talked about “the fire prepared for the devil and his messengers”?

Luke 21:5-11 ©
When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’air

The gospels agree that Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple. Doubtless there would have been a temptation to have Jesus do this since all the gospels were written after the destruction had taken place in 70 CE. Still, it seems  to me likely that Jesus did so, since he clearly rejected the violent messianism which eventually led to the Jewish rebellion and defeat by the Romans. Jesus’ prophecy of the culmination of God’s rule, was very sober. He warned his followers not to listen to the sort of nutters who are always claiming to be messiahs or think that the usual world evils are indication that the “end is nigh.” There have been plenty such in my lifetime, often with a precise date for the end of the world, and selling tickets for the last plane out. Each one has been a busted flush, frequently finding its acolytes faced with embarrassing bills they hadn’t expected to pay. Jesus sensibly pointed out that as violence and natural disaster were hardly unusual, we shouldn’t take them as as signs of the end. Nevertheless we should expect that some of the insititutions that seem so solid today (like the Temple or the Bank of England), may not be around tomorrow.

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