Reformation Day • Revelation 14:6–7 • October 28, 2012
By Jeffrey Kloha
Three angels (14:6, 8, 9). Three announcements of judgment. And, at the end of the chapter, the sickle is put to the grapevines, the great winepress of God overflows, and the blood of the condemned flows for 1600 stadia. Not a text that one would typically use for a lesson aimed at the 3-year-old Sunday school class, nor likely on the cover of this week’s Sunday bulletin, nor, I suspect, the first choice for preachers on the day of the celebration of the gospel. Chapters 12–14 of Revelation intervene between two descriptions of seven “wraths” poured out on the earth. There are two (and only two) groups of people in this chapter: the 144,000 “on Mt. Zion” who have been “redeemed” (14:1–5), further described as the “saints” who “keep faith in Jesus” (14:12–13); the other group are those “on the earth.” These have polluted themselves with wickedness and worshipped what is not God (14:8–12). For them, God’s eternal gospel is not “good news,” for it warns of their impending destruction by the God whom they have rejected (14:14–20).
The most problematic phrase in this text, to our Lutheran ears, is ἔχοντα εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον εὐαγγελίσαι (14:6). How can this message, one of impending judgment and destruction, be “good news”? This εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον, however, encompasses more than the proclamation of Christ’s victory; it is the grand narrative of God’s dealing with humanity, centered in Christ, which brings “good news” to the elect but always includes consequences for those who reject Christ. To those who hear his call, indeed it is good news. But those who do not hear are under condemnation. To them, the “eternal gospel” is not “good news,” but the announcement that the time for repentance has ended. Indeed, there is no room for repentance in chapter 14; angel follows angel with unyielding fury; the cry “fallen” in 14:8 comes hard upon what seems to be a call to repentance in 14:7, the pronouncement of the verdict in 14:9–11 without a pause of breath.
Your congregation of friendly, pleasant people will not like this message. For it is a message the leaves no middle ground. The apostle leaves no wiggle room, no third category of people who are nice but don’t quite believe in Jesus. This sounds harsh, judgmental, unnecessarily divisive, especially as the rhetoric of a hard-fought national election reaches its lowest, angry tones. Is the church just another voice that speaks a word of hatred and division, of us vs. them, of apocalyptic fervor designed solely to rally the faithful? No, the grand narrative of God’s working in Christ assumes that something is broken. Something is in need of restoration. We ourselves groan, and the creation groans with us, as we await that day when God redeems his work. That redemption happens only in Christ Jesus, and apart from him is only separation and condemnation. In Revelation 14, it is too late. The sickle is about to be sent into the fields.
For those gathered around the word this day, it is not yet too late; the night has not yet come. And so there is still time. This text might drive us into three Spirit-led responses. First when confronted with the unmistakable signs of the approaching end of the age and we wonder about where we will stand in the judgment—when we ask, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24), where is our confidence? Solely in Christ Jesus our Lord. A second response is to turn from sin. When confronted with the unmistakable signs of the approaching end of the age, where is our work focused? On “walking” as children of the light (Rom 13:11–13), putting off the works of darkness (note that the list of the works of darkness in Romans 13 and the evil deeds of the nations in Revelation 14 are virtually identical). Third, when confronted with the unmistakable signs of the approaching end of the age, where is our work focused? On making Christ known to the nations while it is still day (Jn 9:4–5), who is the light of the world, the only one who can deliver from the coming wrath. The angels have not yet come; the gospel is still finding its way in the world through the church.
All this drives us to Christ. “Where is the justice?” some might cry upon hearing this text; “how can a merciful God do these terrible things?” The justice is placed on Christ; the wrath has been poured out on him. The mercy of God is to be found in Christ alone. Solus Christus! cried the sixteenth-century reformers. This is always our cry, in and to a world lost in itself.