Rev. 14:19 – So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (HCSB)
The great winepress of God’s wrath
Verse 19 reads, “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” A winepress, also known as a wine vat, is a rectangular cavity carved out of rock or built artificially. Ripe grapes are placed in the winepress and trampled underfoot, with the juice flowing down into a lower receptacle. Usually, a full winepress signifies prosperity, while an empty winepress signifies famine. In this metaphorical reference, however, the fullness of the winepress suggests rampant evil that is now being judged.
The word “winepress” appears 20 times in 20 verses in scripture (HCSB). When it is used metaphorically, it depicts either Israel or God’s judgment:
- Isa. 5:2 (Israel) – “He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes.”
- Isa. 63:2-3 (judgment) – The Lord is asked, “Why are your clothes red, and your garments like the one who tread a winepress?” The Lord replies, “I trample the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in my anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered my garments, and all my clothes were stained.” This passage describes God as a warrior going to battle to defeat the forces of evil.
- Lam. 1:15 (judgment) – “The Lord has rejected all the mighty men within me. He has summoned an army against me to crush my young warriors. The Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah [like grapes] in a winepress.”
- Joel 3:13 (judgment) – “Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe. Come and trample the grapes because the winepress is full; the wine vats overflow because the wickedness of the nations is great.” This verse describes the Day of the Lord, in which Yahweh will utterly defeat His enemies.
- Matt. 21:33 / Mark 12:1 (Israel) – Jesus says, “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away.”
- Rev. 14:19 (judgment) – “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
- Rev. 19:15 (judgment) – “A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty.”
Here, in Rev. 14:19, in the trampling of the winepress “lies the true climax of the image of the wine harvest: the liquid that flows from the (red) grapes symbolizes the blood of the enemies whom God has destroyed in his anger” (Roloff, p. 178).
Warren Wiersbe shares the following insight: “Scripture portrays three different ‘vines.’ Israel was God’s vine, planted in the land to bear fruit for God’s glory; but the nation failed God and had to be cut down (Ps. 80:8–16; Isa. 5:1–7; see also Matt. 21:33–46). Today, Christ is the Vine and believers are branches in Him (John 15). But the world system is also a vine, ‘the vine of the earth’ in contrast to Christ, the heavenly Vine; and it is ripening for judgment. The wicked system – Babylon – that intoxicates people and controls them, will one day be cut down and destroyed in ‘the winepress of the wrath of God’ (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 14:6).
Next: Blood flowed … for about 180 miles – Revelation 14:20
Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth — to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (HCSB)
In Revelation 14, John sees three angels and records their unique messages. The first angel flies high overhead and proclaims the “eternal gospel” to the earth’s inhabitants. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon the Great. The third angel warns that those who worship and beast and receive his mark on their foreheads or hands will be severely punished. Finally, John hears a voice from heaven promising comfort to those who “die in the Lord from now on.”
This passage raises many challenging questions:
- What is the “eternal gospel?”
- Who or what is “Babylon the Great?”
- What does it mean to “drink the wine of God’s wrath?”
- Do verses 10-11 speak of temporal punishment on earth, or of everlasting torment in hell?
- What does the third angel mean when he says, “This demands the perseverance of the saints?”
- And who are the “dead who die in the Lord from now on?”
Let’s take a closer look.
Rev. 13:15 – He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (HCSB)
He was permitted to give a spirit to the image
In verse 15 John writes of the false prophet, “He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”
Note first that the false prophet is permitted to give life to the image of the beast. His power comes from Satan; his permission comes from God. Thusly armed, he gives a “spirit” to the image. The Greek word pneuma is used more than 300 times in scripture and may be translated “spirit,” “breath” or “breeze.” It also may refer to the human spirit or rational soul; an angel, demon, or the Holy Spirit; or even a ghost. Here it appears to be best translated “breath” or “life,” for the image speaks and acts.
This is a stunning miracle, for it convinces many to worship the first beast. It’s quite possible that the false prophet uses sleight-of-hand tricks to make it appear the image is speaking. However, it could be that demonic forces are at work. In confronting the Corinthians with the truth about hand-carved idols, Paul pulls back the veil to expose the truth that those who offer sacrifices to idols – which cannot speak or act – are in fact sacrificing to demons, which the idols represent (1 Cor. 10:20). But in Revelation, John depicts the idol as being alive – or apparently so. Whether animated by demons or creative illusions, the image of the beast inspires both wonder and terror in the hearts of people, for he pronounces death sentences on those who hold fast their allegiance to Christ.
Rev. 10:1 – Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like fiery pillars, 2and he had a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3and he cried out with a loud voice like a roaring lion. When he cried out, the seven thunders spoke with their voices. 4And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!”
5Then the angel that I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6He swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, 7but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets.”
8Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “God, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”
10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)
An interlude between woes
There is an interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), just as there is a pause between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. John sees a mighty angel descend from heaven and stand with one foot on land and one in the sea. He holds a “little scroll” in his hand. The angel roars like a lion, prompting the seven thunders to speak; but what they say is sealed up and hidden, at least for now.
The mighty angel proclaims, “There will no longer be an interval of time.” When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, “God’s hidden plan” will be completed.
A voice from heaven tells John to take the scroll from the mighty angel. As the angel gives the open scroll to John, he tells the apostle to eat it. John obeys and finds the scroll as sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach.
Finally, John is told that his work is far from finished; he must “prophesy again about many people, nations, languages, and kings.”
Why is there a break in the action between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments? Who is the mighty angel that roars like a lion? Who are the seven thunders that speak, and why is John forbidden from revealing what they say? Why is there to be no more delay before God’s hidden plan is completed? What is written on the scroll in the mighty angel’s hand? Why is John told to eat the scroll? And why is it sweet to the tongue but bitter to the stomach?
This chapter is filled with vivid imagery and rich meaning. Let’s move slowly through these verses.
Another mighty angel
John sees “another mighty angel” coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face is like the sun. His legs are as fiery pillars. He stands with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and his voice is like a roaring lion’s. What a magnificent image of a powerful heavenly being. So magnificent, in fact, that many commentators conclude this is Christ.
And perhaps he is. There are similarities between this “mighty angel” and Jesus as He is depicted in Revelation 1 and Revelation 19. But there also are differences – among them, the fact that the angel in Revelation 10 is called “another mighty angel,” whereas Jesus is unique and there is no one like Him. Also, in Revelation 1 John falls at Jesus’ feet in worship, but he does not worship this angel, even though he mistakenly worships an angel in Revelation 22. Jesus, we should remember, is never called an angel in Revelation.
Finally, in verse 6 the mighty angel swears an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, an inappropriate action for the Messiah, who is God and needs to swear no oath, for merely in speaking He guarantees the truth of His words and the surety of His promises.* For these reasons, it appears best to understand this mighty angel as a powerful heavenly messenger who, like John, worships and serves Christ.
In calling him “another mighty angel,” John may be distinguishing him from the mighty angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Or John may be setting this mighty angel apart from the other angels who sound the seven trumpets. In any case, this appears to be a mighty angel who instills awe in the human observer yet is not divine.
Notice how John describes the mighty angel:
- Coming down from heaven. As W.A. Criswell notes, this is not so much a point of departure as a description of his abode. He is a heavenly creature, familiar with the presence of the triune Godhead and the trappings of the throne room.
- Surrounded by a cloud. The English Standard Version renders it “wrapped in a cloud” and the New American Standard Bible says he is “clothed with a cloud.” God often is identified with clouds. He leads Israel out of Egypt and through the desert by a cloud. Dark clouds cover Mt. Sinai when He delivers the Law. He appears to Moses in a cloud of glory. The Psalmist writes that He “makes the clouds His chariot” (Ps. 104:3). A cloud receives Jesus when He ascends into heaven. And when He returns it will be with clouds. This phrase alone may cause some to conclude that the mighty angel is Jesus. Yet for the reasons stated above, this likely is not the Lord. Consider that people are sometimes identified with clouds in service to the Lord. For example, the writer of Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by “a large cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone into heaven before us. And note that the Lord’s two witnesses are carried up to heaven in “a cloud” in Rev. 11:12.
- A rainbow over his head. Some render it, “with a halo on his head.” Many see this as an allusion to Rev. 4:3, where we see an emerald rainbow surrounding the throne. At the very least, the rainbow is a sign of our covenant-keeping God. This does not necessarily mean the mighty angel in Revelation 10 is Christ, however, for the Lord employs angels in His covenant work.
- With his face like the sun. This follows the description of Jesus in Rev. 1:16 and on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matt. 17:2. Even so, consider that Moses’ face “shone as a result of speaking with the Lord” so that he wore a veil to keep from frightening his fellow Israelites (Ex. 34:29-35). And other passages of scripture suggest that believers acquire a radiance in God’s presence (Judges 5:31; Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43). Remember, too, that angels, who reside in God’s presence, often are associated with bright light (see, for example, Luke 2:9). Even Satan may disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), although there is no suggestion in John’s vision that this mighty angel is anything but holy.
- Legs like fiery pillars. This angel comes in judgment. Even though Jesus is depicted as One with “feet like fine bronze fired in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15), He also sends out His angels as “a fiery flame” (Heb. 1:7).
- A little scroll in his hand. Some see this as the same scroll of Rev. 5:1. Two different Greek words are used to describe them (biblion and biblaridion), but they come from the same root word (biblos). Perhaps the most fitting tie is to the scroll Ezekiel is commanded to eat before prophesying to the house of Israel (Eze. 2:8 – 3:14).
- His right foot on the sea, his left on the land. Many commentators believe this symbolizes a universal message, one for both Jews and Gentiles. The angel seems extraordinarily large, although John does not tell us his height and he could in fact simply be the size of a man standing on the shoreline. The rabbis in the Talmud discuss an angel named Sandelfon, who stands 500 miles taller than other angels (Hagigah 13b).
- A loud voice like a roaring lion. The word translated “roaring” (mukaomai) usually is used for the voice of oxen, a low bellow. However, it seems an appropriate allusion to Old Testament passages where the Lord speaks as a lion (Jer. 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 3:8). More to the point, throughout Revelation we see angels speaking with commanding voices (Rev. 5:2, 4:9, etc.).
So, while many commentators identify this mighty angel as Jesus – and again, perhaps he is – it seems best to see this figure as a powerful angelic messenger of the Lord, one with an awe-inspiring appearance and magnificent power who speaks on behalf of Almighty God and whose voice carries an ambassadorial authority.
It’s possible that this mighty creature is the same angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Perhaps, as well, it’s the angel of Rev. 7:2, who has the seal of the living God and who instructs four other angels in a loud voice not to harm the earth until the servants of the Lord are sealed. Additionally, it could be the angel of Rev. 8:3-5, who carries a gold incense burner and stands before the altar in heaven, then takes coals from the fire and hurls them to earth.
Finally, it could be the angel we will see in Rev. 18:1, who comes down from heaven with great authority and illuminates the earth with his splendor. Some commentators suggest this is Michael the archangel, whose name means “one like God.” However, because John calls him “another mighty angel,” he simply may be a unique contemporary of the others.
W.A. Criswell summarizes, “More than sixty times, besides the reference to the angels of the seven churches, are angels referred to in the Revelation, and every time the reference is to their employment in the service to God. So this angel is a glorious servant of the most High God” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 198).
Next: A little scroll opened in his hand – Revelation 10
Rev. 9:1 – The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5 They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces; 8 they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9 they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10 and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11 They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12 The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)
The appearance of the locusts
John describes these locusts in graphic terms in verses 7-11:
- Their appearance is “like horses equipped for battle.” They are coming to wage war and, like horses, they are swift. Joel 2:4 describes locusts this way: “Their appearance is like that of horses, and they gallop like war horses.”
- On their heads are “something like gold crowns.” This is one of the only places in the New Testament where the victory crown (stephanos) is worn by anyone other than Christ and the saints. And in this case, they only wear “something like gold crowns,” an imitation of the genuine article. Evil thrives – but never endures – when it counterfeits good.
- Their faces are “like men’s faces.” They are intelligent and able to discern between those who wear God’s mark of protection and those who don’t.
- They have “hair like women’s hair.” Perhaps a reference to warriors like Samson, they are granted destructive strength. An Arabic proverb compares the antennae of locusts to the hair of girls. Some commentators believe this phrase describes the hairs on locusts’ legs and bodies.
- Their teeth are “like lion’s teeth.” Like Satan, they roam the earth, seeking whom they may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Joel 1:6 describes invading locusts as having “the teeth of a lion.”
- They have “chests like iron breastplates.” They will be difficult to confront and almost impossible to defeat.
- The sound of their wings is “like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle.” The very sound of their approach strikes fear in the hearts of people.
- They have “tails with stingers, like scorpions.” We will see this imagery again in the sixth trumpet judgment. In Isaiah 9 the “prophet, the lying teacher” is described as the “tail” of Israel, inflicting damage on the people’s understanding of God’s word.
- Their tails have “the power to harm people for five months.” Whether this is to be taken literally or figuratively, God controls the length of time these locusts run rampant over the earth.
- They have as their king “the angel of the abyss.” Abaddon rules over these demonic forces; but remember he does not operate independently of God’s sovereign will.
W.A. Criswell comments: “When people persist in iniquity, when people choose to be vile and blasphemous, God lets it continue. If a man chooses the administration of Satan, God lets that man experience what it is to be a servant of the devil. That is what has happened here in the Book of Revelation. The spirit of iniquity works, and it continues and it goes on, and finally it ends in indescribable torment, hurt, agony and pain. We can always remember this: The man who lives in sin builds his house by the very pit of hell. He is next door. This that we find under the fifth trumpet is nothing other than an out-working of evil when men choose to be servants of Satan and when they wear the livery of the devil. Tormenting judgments inevitably come and inevitably flow” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 188).
Four major views of the fifth trumpet
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the fifth trumpet?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – assign the events of the fifth trumpet to the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. The fallen star is some angel, or some minister of religion like the high priest, and the locusts are the spiritual errors they teach. There is considerable historical evidence that Jewish society in the days before the destruction of Jerusalem is deluded, despotic, and demonic. Jesus’ parable of the unclean spirit in Matt. 12:43-45 warns about the wickedness of this generation and the evil that will befall them when they reject the Messiah and His offer of salvation. The people wish for death, not because the Romans are outside Jerusalem’s gates, but because their own wicked countrymen are inside.
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – say the locusts represent the Muslim Arabs in their campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire from 612 – 763 AD, with Muhammad as the star that has fallen from heaven. In the Koran there is a remarkable parallel with Rev. 9:4; it reads, “Destroy no palm trees, nor any fields of corn, cut down no fruit trees.” Those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads are corrupt and idolatrous Christians, against whom the Muslims chiefly prevail, according to the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. The five months are five prophetic months that, when using the year-for-a-day principle, equal 150 years, almost exactly the length of time the Muslims ravage the Eastern church. Some Roman Catholics have identified the locusts as the Lutherans of the Reformation, with Martin Luther as the fallen star.
- Futurists – who say the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – tend to see the fallen star as Satan and the locusts as demonic hordes released against unrepentant sinners at the start of the tribulation. Some futurists equate the fallen star with the pope and the locusts with moral and spiritual errors. A number of futurists believe demonic possession will become widespread in the last days. While many who are possessed will seek death, they are not free to exercise their own wills and are kept alive by the demons who torment them.
- Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – see the fifth trumpet as the internal decay of the Roman Empire. Others, however, contend that the locusts represent demonic forces unleashed upon the earth, with Satan as the angel of the abyss, and the abyss itself the prison of demons. The description of the locusts inflicting torment like scorpions is similar to the biblical depiction of snakes as creatures hostile to man and therefore apt symbols of demons. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 10:19, “Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.” As Israel is kept safe from the plagues of Egypt, so God’s people are protected from the locusts. The “five months” are symbolic of a limited period of time, although the demonic torment is so intense its victims wish for death.
The first woe has passed
John ends this segment with a warning: “The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this” (v. 12). It is an echo of the eagle’s cry in Rev. 8:13: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!” While the first woe has resulted in unspeakable torment for unbelievers, John hints that things are about to get even worse.
Even so, there is mercy from God and hope for people. If John is reminding readers that two woes remain, it also means there’s still time to repent. Will the wicked turn to Christ? Or have they passed the point of no return, having filled up their measure of sin (1 Thess. 2:16)?
Next: The sixth trumpet — Revelation 9:13-21