Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth — to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgement has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’
Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’
Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, ‘Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.’
Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’ So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 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.’ 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. 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.
Three angels declare that those who worship God get life-giving water, but that Babylon is now fallen and is drinking only God’s wrath, and that all those who worship the monster and the statue will know this same wrath.
In other words, those who have been chasing the wrong things in life will be cut off from that intoxication, and need to turn to God, who deserves true worship, and who will give true life. In our day these ‘false gods’ might be materialism, greed, and exploitation of the earth. So what should we do? Turn to God.
Three more angels appear: one tells the crowned son of man to take his sickle and reap, the second also has a sickle, the third tells the second to ply the sickle, too.
We might think this is a scene of punishment, but the coming judgement is described as a harvest. The grapes are not just cut and trampled to be destroyed, but to yield the goodness of their wine, and John’s Revelation declares that the whole earth is now God’s vine, not just the people of Israel. There is good news for all the saints – God is going to take the things of this world and produce a harvest. From the mess of this world, God will draw the richness of the life-giving kingdom. Kingdom life will be an overwhelming flow – vast as a lake of wine.
Is this a vision about the end of time? – almost certainly. There is hope here that in the end God will save the good things of this world and finally remove all impurity. But the vision could also be about our individual lives – God is always ready to distil something pure from the lives we lead, producing a harvest of goodness from the most unlikely of us, through overwhelming grace.
God of the harvest, we turn to you. Take the grapes of our lives and with truth and grace produce a harvest of celebration and joy. In your time, with your wise judgement, make this world into your place where all may know life in all its fulness. We ask this through the grace of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead, minister of the URC currently serving as South Western Synod Moderator. Member of Taunton URC.