Idioms have been prevalent in my writing lately and what the hell is among my favorites. “My Mom just cleaned the house but, what the hell, let’s have a party!” Here it’s used in place of why not or who cares about the consequences. “What the hell happened?” could potentially be uttered when arriving home to a house that smells like a fraternity and “What the hell are you talking about?” when hearing the lame excuse. In both of these examples, what the hell is used to intensify the word what. I was going to try to sugar coat this but, what the hell, I’ll be direct. The lesson this week is about hell.
Who cares about the consequences? That, in my opinion, is what Revelation 14 is all about. Sitting on the fence between light and dark is really not an option. At some point one must choose. The light side of the fence is for those who consider the potential consequences of action and choose to love; the dark is for those who say, “What the hell! Who cares about the consequences?”
There are three major sections in this chapter: The Lamb and the 144,000; The Three Angels; and Harvesting the Earth and Trampling the Winepress. I have included links to these passages for personal perusal. What I find most interesting in the reading this week is the rich metaphorical imagery used to describe lifestyle and faithfulness, specifically wine and marriage.
The Lamb and the 144,000
As discussed in previous posts, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb because in the same way Israelites sacrificed firstborn lambs for atonement (the consequence of sin was believed to be death so animals were used as substitutes for people), Christians believe the crucifixion of Jesus was a sin sacrifice to save humanity. The chapter opens with the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion. There are many interpretations of the meaning of Zion because Mount Zion is an actual place, but in my opinion, it is meant to be symbolic of a destination we ascend to. We climb the mountain or elevate ourselves to a place known as the kingdom of God. Many believe the kingdom of God is within, others that it is external. I’ve talked about this internal vs. external concept of God in other posts. The bottom line is that the 144,000 are with Jesus somewhere sacred.
In the vision, something big happens and is signified with sound: rushing water (emotion), loud thunder (attention grabbing), harp music and singing (angelic). Only those who had ascended (144,000) could learn the song and are described as virgins not defiled by women.
When I read through this the first time I gasped and rolled my eyes. It must be remembered that the vision was coming through John’s filter or bias. The reference to virginity is not meant to be taken literally. It is imagery to describe spiritual purity, one of several instances where adultery is used to describe idolatry or being unfaithful to God. This is validated in following statements about how the 144,000 follow the Lamb, were purchased (redeemed), speak the truth, etc. It occurred to me that this is a commentary about lifestyle.
The Three Angels
An angel sweeps in to tell humanity that this is the last chance to fear (respect) God before final judgment (consequences). A second angel announces, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries. Like Zion, Babylon is an actual place, but John’s use of the word Babylon here is more likely code (common in apocalyptic writing) for Rome and/or a lifestyle Christians believed to be driven by evil. I love the metaphor about the nation being drunk on wine. Participating in a lifestyle is often described as drinking the wine or in corporate America drinking the kool-aid. In both examples there is a connotation that one’s inner gyroscope is compromised under the influence. Adultery is again used to describe a separation from God. The theme of bride (God’s people) and bridegroom (Jesus or God) is common throughout scripture.
A third angel declares that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Those marked by the beast and not sealed by God will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. The lecturer said the mark of the beast was like having a target on one’s forehead and that visual made me laugh. I envisioned people walking around with the Target logo tattooed to their faces as a symbol of materialism, one of many idols worshiped currently in our contemporary society. The point is that time is up. Wine is again used to represent the consequential lifestyle God has in store for the folks on the dark side of the fence. It’s not good.
Harvesting the Earth and Trampling the Winepress
Jesus comes with a sharp sickle and reaps the harvest because the earth is ripe. When I think reaper, I get an image of Jax Teller on Son’s of Anarchy with a reaper tat on his back, not the son of man on a cloud with a crown of gold on his head. That sort of confused me until I read that there is a second reaper, an angel, who cleans up what’s left. This reaper does the dirty work. The angel is told to gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe. The earth’s vine is an attachment to evil and the grapes are those who have chosen to follow Satan over God. Once gathered, the grapes are processed, or trampled, by the winepress of God’s wrath. The resulting wine is described as flowing blood. God’s enemy in the battle between good and evil is defeated.
First of all, I enjoy wine. It’s used in communion with others to celebrate our marriages, graduations, holidays, tax refunds, new jobs, new babies, and other blessings of life. My family and friends enjoy good food, good wine, and good conversation around the dining room table quite frequently in fact. Jesus turned water into wine didn’t he? Drink responsibly.
What the hell? What is hell? Where is hell? I have no idea, but I will say that inappropriate and unloving behavior creates hell on earth. Since we have the ability to change our thoughts and actions we can impact the quality of our lives and the lives of those in our sphere of influence. I read recently that each one of us has the power to answer the prayers of others. All it takes is a willingness to open our eyes and our hearts to make dreams come true.
If you are among those who sit on the fence, choose a side. If you want to be on the winning side, choose the light. What the hell, the light will always permeate the dark. It’s a no brainer.