January 13, 2010

On Solid Ground

2009 1536 17 capHE LAST THREE ANGELS OF REVELATION 14:15-19 AND THE FIRST ANGEL OF Revelation 18:1-3 reveal in vivid symbols Christ’s sacred ministry and mission. John borrows the figure of two harvests from ancient agrarian calendars. The harvest of ripened grain represents the reaping of the righteous (Rev. 14:14-16), and the harvest of ripened grapes symbolizes the judgment of the wicked (verses 17-20).

These three angels come out of the temple in heaven, the dwelling place of the holy Trinity, where Christ is commissioned to reap the ripened harvests.
But there’s a glaring difference with the fifth angel (verse 17). He says nothing—not a single word—while bearing a sharp sickle, because actions speak louder than words. His act of vengeance is immense. So vast is the number of those who reject Jesus that they are referred to as clusters, bunches of ripened grapes. They are so numerous that a “great winepress” is needed to process them.
2009 1536 17The gathered grapes are thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath. This is a striking symbol of the punishment and final destruction of the wicked. It takes place outside the holy city, where Jesus suffered and died so we would not. The blood that comes out of the winepress is a vivid image of the tremendous loss of life and the totality of the punishment inflicted.
The extent of vengeance is also significant. Blood up to the horses’ bridles indicates the great and complete slaughter of the wicked, while the distance of 200 miles seems to represent the length and breadth of total extermination. This assures us that throughout eternity there will be no more evil or injustice.
The sixth angel, the one who has power over fire (verse 18), resembles the angel of Revelation 8:3-5. At first glance he appears to simply deliver a message to gather in the wicked. But on closer examination his message is one of judgment. Just as Jesus Christ (John 5:27) had a ministry that was dual in nature—redemption (Luke 19:10) and judgment (Matt. 13:41 and Isa. 63:1-6), His judgment is wrapped in grace and guarantees spiritual success by demonstrating the stark consequences of rejecting salvation.
The seventh and final angel’s message (Rev. 18:1-3) has several important points. First, His message is the same as the other six angels in Revelation 14, and the last regarding the Messiah’s ministry. Second, like the last three angels in Revelation 14, He comes from the very presence of God with a mission to proclaim God’s final message to the world. Third, it’s a sobering message about the conclusion of the great controversy and the execution of the final judgment as He declares, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!” (Rev. 18:2), referring to the collapse of pagan, commercial Babylon (Isa. 13:17-22; 21:9), and the apostasy that precedes such material ruin. Fourth, His message is a repetition of the second angel’s message, indicating its certainty. But where the former message was addressed to the church, His is for all nations. Fifth, He cries with a mighty voice because His proclamation is universal. Sixth, the whole earth is illumined with His glory (1 John 1:5). Seventh, He is Christ, who has great authority, strength, and power (Matt. 28:18).
Every corrupt soul is like immoral Babylon, which is fallen from virtue to vice, from truth to error, from liberty in Christ to lawlessness with the devil, from being illuminated by God’s splendor to being enshrouded by the darkness of sin.
The good news is that no soul has to stay fallen. Every saint was once a sinner, having been lifted by Christ through faith. The psalmist described the experience with these words: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Ps. 40:2).
If we’ve fallen, we can get up! Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and He will stretch forth His hand and raise us up. So that like Job, our end will be seven times better than our beginning!
Hyveth Williams, formerly senior pastor of the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California, is now a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was printed December 24, 2009.