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Revelation 14:17-20 - The Grapes of Wrath (3)

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Revelation 14:17-20 – The Grapes of Wrath
Today we are finally going to finish chapter 14 of Revelation. This chapter is so packed with information that I almost feel like I have short changed you with just 4 sermons but I do have to leave some for you to study for yourself, right? We have seen in this chapter an overview of the end of the struggle of the church and the destruction and judgment that will fall on those who are the enemies of God. Let me reiterate that this chapter is an overview not a chronological series of events by which you can set your calendars. I also say that about the entirety of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This Revelation is apocalyptic literature which does not always follow a set timeline. So what we see at the very beginning of this chapter is an end product, then some of the events that led up to the end which is God’s people standing with the Lamb on heavenly Mount Zion. Let’s do just a brief review of this chapter since we were away from it last week due to weather. In the opening, verses we see the Lamb with all of His redeemed standing on the heavenly Mount Zion and there is a celebration going on with a new song that only the redeemed from the great tribulation can learn. Then in verses 4-6 there is a description of the redeemed of God describing them as spiritually pure, fully devoted to Christ and morally pure. In verse 7 is the description of the gospel going out to every tribe, tongue and nation calling people to repentance. And in verse 8-11 there is the proclamation that the world system, Babylon, that is opposed to God is fallen then a warning to all those who follow the Beast. But in verses 12-13 there is a blessing on all those who follow the Lamb. In verses 14-16 there is a description of Jesus with a sharp sickle gathering in or harvesting the redeemed of God before the wrath of God is poured out on those who worship the Beast. Which brings us to our passage today Revelation 14:17-20 17 Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” 19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.[1]
Remember back in Revelation 6:9-10 when we read: 9When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” These martyred saints wanted to know how long until they were avenged. They were all given a white robe and told: rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. If you have ever asked that question, “How long?” then you are in pretty good company because God even asked that question. In Number 14 11How long will this people provoke Me? 27How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which mummers against Me? In the Psalms Kingd David asked that question 15 different times because of the persecution and evil he was experiencing.
We are fixin’ to see an overview of the answer to that question, especially the question of the martyrs under the altar in chapter 6. Just make sure you understand that this is the overview of God’s wrath towards those who bowed themselves to the beast, even in light of God’s constant call to repentance, and in the process persecuted, imprisoned and executed the people of God.
(Revelation 6:10)“How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 14:17-20 17 Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.18 And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” 19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. This angel came out from the Temple where God is enthroned and is ready to reap the harvest of grapes. He has in his hand a sharp sickle like Jesus had in verse 14. The interesting thing about the notation that the sickles were sharp is that this is not a sudden decision by God; it has been planned since the beginning. Both Jesus and the angel are prepared for their business of harvesting. We have already seen that Jesus had a plan to return and get His own. A couple of weeks ago when we talked about the cup of God’s indignation we said that it was a planned passionate impulse for the purpose of punishment. And here we see and overview of that plan being carried out indicated by the sickle being sharp and ready to go. Then another angel appears from the altar. He is designated as the angel that has power over fire. The only comment I have concerning this angel that has power over fire is that in chapter 8 we see him come from the altar where the martyrs were resting (chapter 6) with a censor of burning incense mixed with the prayers of the saints and he hurls it to the earth causing noises, thunderings, lightening and an earthquake. Apparently this angel who keeps the fire has something to do with God’s judgment on the earth as it relates to the saints cry for justice. Presumably this same angel makes the announcement that it is time to harvest the vintage, it is ripe.
Let’s stop here and do a little bit of review so this idea of a ripe vintage makes sense. In chapter 6 we saw the four horsemen who represented war, man’s inhumanity to man, famine and disease, increasing death, increasing persecution of the church, natural disasters intensifying and everyone blaming God instead of repenting. Then in chapter 7-8 there came the seven trumpets in which 1/3 of the grass and trees are destroyed, 1/3 of the oceans are turned to blood killing 1/3 of the sea life. Then 1/3 of the ships were destroyed indicting 1/3 of all shipping and commerce ceased. 1/3 of all fresh water was rendered undrinkable and 1/3 of the lights of the sky were dimmed. After that in chapter 9 came the locust creatures out of the abyss that stung people who did not have the seal of God on them but their stings did not kill them even though they longed for deat. And after that an innumerable demonic army marched forth killing 1/3 of humankind yet no one would repent. God’s witnesses went forth represented by the two witnesses and chapter in chapter 9:20 it is very clear that no one repented. Then the great tribulation of the church started with the fiery red dragon going after Christ and the church but failing to destroy Christ or His church the dragon/Satan turns his wrath towards individuals who are the redeemed of God. Then the Beast and his False Prophet required everyone to take the mark of the beast and bow to worship him. Those who refused were killed or imprisoned but those who took the mark could buy and sell but remember there is not much left to buy and sell because of all the destruction from the “natural disasters”. Of course we have been seeing much of these activities, natural disasters and persecution of the saints since they hung Jesus on the cross but it appears that everything is intensifying quickly. And yet the people of the earth refuse to repent. Paul described that in Romans 2:5-6 5But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6who “will render to each one according to his deeds”. These people has seen God’s power, they had heard His message of repentance, they had heard the everlasting gospel, they had experienced some of His judgment and yet seen his mercy in that only 1/3 of nature and mankind had been destroyed and still they bowed and worshiped the beast instead of repenting. Therefore they were ripe for God’s wrath.
This reminds me of what we saw a long time ago in while looking Genesis 15. In that chapter of Genesis Abram (Abraham) complains that he doesn’t have an heir even though God has told him that he would be a great nation. God reminds Abram that he would inherit Canaan. Then God renews His covenant with Abram and tells him that his descendants would be ‘strangers’ in a land that is not theirs and they will be afflicted for 400 years then God will deliver them and they will go out with riches. Then God told Abram the He would judge that land. Of course we know this land is indeed Egypt. Then God tells Abram in verse why He waits those 400 years; Genesis 15:6: But in the fourth generation they (the descendants of Abram, the Israelites) shall return here (Canaan, the Promised Land), for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”[2] What God is saying there is that the Amorites who were in Canaan would have 400 years to repent before He destroyed them. Their iniquity was not full, they were not ripe for the winepress of God. Then you can read in Joshua how God went before the people of Israel and destroyed the Amorites. God was patient, longsuffering, but when the Amorites were ripe for the harvest He crushed them. That is what we are seeing described here in chapter 14.
Just like the “grain harvest” of the elect of God was global so will be the “vintage harvest” of the people of the earth; those who had refused to repent. The harvest of God’s people was not nearly as descriptive as is the harvest of the enemies of God. If you understand that the harvest of grapes and the crushing of the vintage throughout the Old Testament described God’s wrath then you can see that this is the most gruesome scene in the entire Revelation of Jesus Christ. We will see this crushing played out in chapters 16-19 but what we see here is a promise to totally destroy the enemies of God; to avenge His people.
The description of the grapes in the winepress for us is not all that awe inspiring so let me see if I can describe it. When the grapes were collected off of the vine using a sharp curved pruning knife (it is called a sickle) they are taken to a place which is outside the city because that is where the vineyard is. There is a rock that has been hewn out into a large bowl shape. The grapes are put into the hollow of the rock and crushed by being trampled on to remove the “blood” of the grape. It then flows out of channel into a lower, either hollowed out rock or clay pots so that it can be made into wine. The point of this is that the grapes are not coaxed to give their “blood” they are crushed, they are ruined to extract their juice. That is the picture we are getting concerning those who have had opportunity after opportunity to repent and yet still worship the beast and Satan.
I think it is interesting and probably important that in verse 20 John says this trampling happened outside the city. If you will remember Jesus was taken outside the city of Jerusalem and His blood was shed, not for his own sin but for the sin of all who would believe. Hebrews 13:12 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. [3] Those who refuse to repent and follow Jesus are symbolically trampled outside the city for their own sin. They are trampled, ruined, crushed for their sin. Jesus took that crushing for believers, non-believers receive it for themselves.
Much has been written and spoken about the amount of carnage being reported with the description of blood as deep as the horse’s bridle and flowing for 1600 Stadia; four feet deep and 180 mile long. Some have pointed out that Israel is approximately 180 mile long and others have noted that 180 miles is the longest distance between the churches of Asia Minor who first received this Revelation. That would be a lot of blood and indeed the carnage will be great. But even today with our population there would not be enough blood to fill that description according to most experts. So what is it that John is describing if he is not describing a literal river of blood covering all of Israel or Asia Minor? I believe that John is describing in picturesque hyperbole the fact that across the entire world there will be total destruction of the enemies of God. Later on in chapter 19 it will be described as a feast for the birds who come and devour the dead. However, even if I am wrong about the literal river of blood, I am not wrong about the carnage that will be inflicted on the enemies of God, those who follow the Beast and the dragon.
Let’s be sure we understand that the angel with the sickle or pruning knife is not going to literally put people into a wine press and then have God trample on them with His feet until all the blood is drained out of them. We are not talking of a literal crushing of people’s bodies but of a literal destruction of all who are the enemies of God, the things of God and the people of God. Just like all through the New Testament the church is spoken of as grain and the deliverance of the church like a grain harvest so are the enemies of God spoken of as a grape vintage and the wrath of God as a wine press in the Old Testament. Isaiah 63:1-6 1Who is this who comes from Edom, With dyed garments from Bozrah, This One who is glorious in His apparel, Traveling in the greatness of His strength?—“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? 3“I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes. 4For the day of vengeance is in My heart, And the year of My redeemed has come. 5I looked, but there was no one to help, And I wondered That there was no one to uphold; Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; And My own fury, it sustained Me. 6I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, Made them drunk in My fury, And brought down their strength to the earth.”[4] And then there is Joel 3:13 13Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, The vats overflow—For their wickedness is great.”[5] This is pretty descriptive of God’s planned wrath on those who oppose Him after He has shown them great mercy and offered them amazing grace, yet without repentance.
Remember that I told you that this is an overview of God’s wrath and vengeance on those who martyred or murdered the believers we talked about in chapter 6 who are crying out to be avenged. We will see the events of this unfold in chapters 16 on to chapter 19 where we see the Beast and the False Prophet thrown into the lake of fire and all of his followers killed with the sword that John says comes from the mouth of Jesus. But what do we get out of this passage, this chapter that we can use for today. The most obvious answer to that question is we get to see clearly that God is going to deliver His people and He is going to judge and punish those who persecuted Him by persecuting His people. All the way through the Bible we see this promised and here in chapter 14 we see an overview of that promise being kept. For those of us who are follower of Christ that is great assurance. But we need to understand as well that this is a promise to those who are opposed to God as well. It is a promise to those who refuse to repent that they will be crushed, they will be ruined in His wrath, not the kind of wrath where God is out of control but a planned passionate wrath that is due those who hate Him and He will not miss a soul. With that promise comes a call to repent. The time of His wrath has not yet fallen, the angel has not yet called for the harvest so there is yet time to turn to God and away from sin. Also last time I came down pretty heavy on the church that complains more about losing our rights as citizens of the United States than exercising our responsibilities as citizens of the kingdom of God. This knowledge of God’s wrath should be a bold call for us to evangelize our family, friends, neighbors and enemies. To those who repent and believe, God’s mercy is sure. But to those who refuse Him, those who refuse to repent His wrath is just as sure. Which will it be? Let’s pray.
[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 14:1–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 15:16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Heb 13:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Is 63:1–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[5] The New King James Version. (1982). (Joe 3:13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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