In Revelation 15:1 John sees another great and marvelous sign, seven angels with the seven last plagues. They are the last plagues because God’s wrath has been completed. Revelation 15-16 alludes to the book of Exodus to describe God’s final wrath on the kingdom of the beast.
Although God’s wrath is often associated with Israel’s rebellion, the prophets associate God’s wrath to eschatological events. For example, in Zephaniah 1:15 the final judgment will be a day of wrath, distress, anguish, and ruin. On that day the Lord will sweep everything away like chaff (2:2) and make a sudden end to all who live on the earth (1:18).
The wrath of God has been completed or accomplished (aorist passive of τελέω). The wrath of God is mentioned in several key passages in the book. In Revelation 6:16-17 the great day of the wrath of the Lamb “has come” and in 11:18 God’s wrath came, judged the dead and rewarded God’s servants. Those who have worshiped the beast will drink the wine of God’s wrath (14:10) and the harvest of the earth was described as grapes in the “winepress of God’s fury” (14:19). The seven bowls introduced in 15:17 and describe in chapter 16 are called “bowls full of the wrath of God” and Babylon the Great will drink the wine of God’s wrath (16:19; 19:15).
After seeing the great and wondrous sign, John sees those who have been victorious over the beast worshiping the Lamb (Rev 15:2-4). This worship scene has elements from Revelation 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship. John sees worshipers with harps beside a sea of glass mingled with fire.
The worshipers are the ones who are conquered the beast, its image and the number of his name. Although the text does not say they have been killed, that they are worshiping in a heavenly seem implies they have refused to worship the image of the beast or take his number. Like the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:9-11 and the 144,000 in 14:1-5, they have been killed by the beast and are now worshiping the Lamb.
The song they are singing is identified as the “Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb.” The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43 and Psalm 90. The problem is the Song of Moses in Revelation 15 has no literary relationship between the song of Moses in the Old Testament. Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is.
The context of the original song is important: God rescued his people out of Egypt, he overcame the Egyptians and their gods. There are obvious connections between the following judgments and plagues in Exodus. God is working again to preserve his people by sending plagues on their enemies.
The seven angels are given “bowls filled with the wrath of God” (Rev 15:5-8). The angels come out of the open “the sanctuary of the tent.” This is another allusion to Exodus. The tent of meeting was the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord. Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by itself was a sign of God’s wrath (2:878). Like angels in Daniel, these angels are dressed in white with a gold sash.
When the four living creatures given these angels the bowls of God’s wrath, the whole sanctuary is filled with the smoke of the glory of God (15:8). This is another allusion to Exodus: when the ark was installed in the Tabernacle the tent was filled with a cloud, representing the glory of God (Exodus 40:34-35).
Although there are a number of ways to understand the structure of Revelation, this is the final scene in a cycle of visions (Revelation 12-14). This conclusion foreshadows the final battle in in the book. In Revelation 16:16, all the nations of the world will gather at har-meggido, the mountain of Megiddo, or Armageddon. There are also similarities to the gore in the final battle described in 19:17-21.
The image of the great winepress of the wrath of God is drawn from Isaiah 63:1-6. In this disturbing passage, the Lord is clothed in a white robe stained with the blood of his enemies. When asked why his robes are stained, the Lord responds, “I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments and stained all my apparel.” In 63:6 the Lord says, “I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
This is a disturbing, violent image of God. But the metaphor of Israel as a grapevine is common in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 5:1-7, for example, Israel is a vineyard planted and cultivated by the Lord, but it only yielded wild grapes; so the Lord destroys it (anticipating the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the exile). In Joel 1:7 the Lord lays to waste his vine; in Lamentations 1:15 the virgin daughter of Judah is “trodden as in a winepress.”
There are a number of passages in the Old Testament describing God as a divine warrior, sometimes riding the storm and clouds like a chariot. For example, Psalm 18:7-15 describe the earth reeling at the appearance of the Lord riding on a cherub with the wings of the wind. In Psalm 104:1-4 God “makes the clouds his chariot” and he “rides on the wings of the wind.” Tremper Longman suggests Revelation uses this divine warrior motif to describe the Lamb’s eschatological victory. This is not surprising, Longman says, because “the Divine Warrior is the one to whom the apocalyptists looked forward with hope that he would intervene in history to judge their enemies, save them and establish himself as king” (300).
The winepress is “outside the city.” What city is this, Babylon or Jerusalem? For some interpreters, this must be Jerusalem since Revelation is about the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. But “outside the city” is simply where a vineyard and winepress would be located. Some commentators suggest an allusion to Jesus’s crucifixion outside the city of Jerusalem.
The angel harvests the grapes and gathers them into the winepress of God’s wrath where they are trampled. The blood flowed “as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia,” or about 184 miles, the distance from Dan to Beersheba (a common measure of the promised land in the Old Testament). Is this chest-deep blood intended to be a literal river or gore, or is this hyperbole?
Most commentaries consider this as hyperbole. G. R. Beasley-Murray (Revelation, NCC, 230) pointed out the number is a square of 40, which he states is the “number of judgment” (citing Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, although there are other examples of forty which are not related to judgment). Similarly, Robert Mounce sees this as a square of four (hinting at the four corners of the earth), and is therefore a symbol of the whole world (Mounce, Revelation, 283).
There are a few who see this as a literal river of blood. Robert Thomas points out that the valley of Megiddo drains into the Jordan River system, so a massive slaughter there would result in a river of blood (Thomas, Revelation, 2:224). Fanning states this should not be taken in any way as a literal five- or six-feet-deep river of blood, but rather “the cataclysmic defeat and destruction of all enemies arrayed against [Christ] in that day will unimaginably vast” (Fanning, 400).
The image of hyperbolic amounts of blood and gore is not uncommon in apocalyptic literature. For example, in the third Sibylline Oracle, “the plain will sweep to the sea with the blood of perishing men” (3.453-454). “Rocks will flow with blood and every torrent will fill the plain” (3.684-685) and “all the impious will bathe in blood. The earth itself will also drink of the blood of the dying; wild beasts will be sated with flesh” (3.695-697). Similar to the Great Supper of God in Revelation 19:17-18, the fifth Sibylline Oracle says “Wild beasts will devour the table from all dwellings. Even birds will devour all mortals. The bloody ocean will be filled with flesh and blood of the senseless, from evil war” (5.470-473). Other examples of exaggerated gore in an apocalyptic context:
1 Enoch 100.3–4 The horse shall walk through the blood of sinners up to his chest; and the chariot shall sink down up to its top. 4 In those days, the angels shall descend into the secret places. They shall gather together into one place all those who gave aid to sin.
Sibylline Oracle 3.319-323 Woe to you, land of Gog and Magog, situated in the midstof Ethiopian rivers. How great an effusion of blood you will receive and you will be called a habitation of judgment among men and your dewy earth will drink black blood.
Even Josephus exaggerated the blood flowing through the streets of Jerusalem when Rome captured in the city in A.D. 70:
Josephus, Jewish War 6.406–407 Yet, while they pitied those who had thus perished, they had no similar feelings for the living, but, running everyone through who fell in their way,  they choked the alleys with corpses and deluged the whole city with blood, insomuch that many of the fires were extinguished by the gory stream. (LCL)
Although this section of 4 Ezra (sometimes called 6 Ezra) may be influenced by Christian writings, a similar image of horses wading through blood is used:
4 Ezra 15.35–37 They shall clash against one another and shall pour out a heavy tempest on the earth, and their own tempest; and there shall be blood from the sword as high as a horse’s belly 36 and a man’s thigh and a camel’s hock. 37 And there shall be fear and great trembling on the earth; those who see that wrath shall be horror-stricken, and they shall be seized with trembling (NRSV).
The image of treading a winepress lends to the description of rivers of blood, since the crushing of extremely ripe grapes may very well look like a river of dark blood. The picture is not so much of blood flowing than the quantity and quality of the enemies of God that are under his judgment at the return of the Messiah. The enemies of God are described as very ripe grapes, and there are so many of them that by treading them the land is filled with their juice.
Standing in the background of the gore-tradition is Ezekiel 39:17-21. The passage describes the invasion of Israel by Gog and Magog and the account of the bloody gore is similar to this passage and Revelation 19:17-18. John also alludes to Ezekiel in Revelation 20:8, another epic final battle.
Bibliography: Tremper Longman III, “The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif” WTJ 44 (1982): 290-307.
Revelation 14 concludes with a son of man reaping a harvest from the earth. But there is a second angel who reaps a harvest of grapes and treads the grapes in the “great winepress of God’s wrath.” Is this a single judgment, or are there two harvests in view? Is this “harvest of the earth” in Revelation 14 for salvation or judgment?
The combination of the image of a harvest and a sickle seems to indicate this is a harvest to judgment and the extreme gore of verses 19-20 describe an epic final judgment of all the earth. However, some commentators think there are two harvests in 14:14-20. The first (verses 14-15) is a wheat harvest and includes all people, while the second is a grape harvest (verse 16-20) only falls on the unrighteous. The first harvest is for the elect and the second for the non-elect to damnation.
In the Gospels, since the crowds following him as a plentiful harvest, Jesus tells his disciples to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers” (Matt 9:37/Luke 10:2). In the next paragraph Jesus selects the twelve disciples, gives them authority to heal and cast out demons, and then sends them out to announce the Kingdom of God to the Jewish people in Galilee. The disciples are the workers in the harvest. But there is an eschatological edge to some of Jesus’s harvest sayings. The arable of the Wheat and Weeds, for example, looks forward to the separation of the wheat and the weeds at the harvest time (Matt 13:24-30). In Mark 4:29 he says “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Grain harvests can be used to describe either a gathering to salvation or a gathering to judgment. Isaiah 27:12-13 the Lord will “thresh out the grain” and Israel will be gleaned so that they can return to Jerusalem and worship God. But in Isaiah 17:4 it is Jacob that is judged at the harvest of olives. In Jeremiah 51:33 Babylon on the threshing floor and the “the time of her harvest will come.” Joel 3:13 is likely the text John alludes to in Revelation 14 since it combines a grain and grape harvest: “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.”
The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word “scroll” (מְגִלָּה) as “sickle” (δρέπανον), the same word used here in Revelation 14. Zechariah sees “a flying sickle, twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide” (LES2). This death sickle will go out over the face of the land to punish every thief and everyone who swears falsely. Both 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra describe an eschatological harvest as a judgment on the wicked:
2 Baruch 70.2 Behold, the days are coming and it will happen when the time of the world has ripened and the harvest of the seed of the evil ones and the good ones has come that the Mighty One will cause to come over the earth and its inhabitants and its rulers confusion of the spirit and amazement of the heart.
4 Ezra 4.30–32 For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes! 31 Consider now for yourself how much fruit of ungodliness a grain of evil seed has produced. 32 When heads of grain without number are sown, how great a threshing floor they will fill!”
4 Ezra uses the image of a harvest for vindication of the righteous as well, in 4:35 the righteous as “when will come the harvest of our reward?”
It is possible to approach the two judgments as similar following same pattern: Another angel comes out from the temple or altar in heaven; a command by a heavenly voice (God’s voice) to proceed with the harvest. In each there is a sharp sickle; in each the harvest is ripe. There are two difference in the ripeness, the grain has dried up (aorist passive from ξηραίνω) but the grapes are at their peak (ἀκμάζω, “the best time of life,” BDAG).
If the passage is patterned on Joel 3:13, then only one judgment is in mind, although it is possible John expanded Joel’s single judgment into two. This may be an example of repetition to emphasize the severity of the judgment.
This final section of Revelation 14 draws on several Old Testament themes to describe what appears to be the great final judgment. John sees someone “like a son of man” sitting on a cloud with a sickle in his hand. Who is this person who was “like a son of man?” Revelation 14 has a series of angels and “another angel” comes out of the temple in 14:15. Is this “son of man” another angel, or does Revelation 14:14 refer to the Messiah?
Revelation 14:14-16 draws on Daniel 7, but there are some differences. In Daniel 7:13, the son of man is sitting on the cloud, although Aune speculates John could be influenced by Psalm 110:1 as well (Aune, 2:840). In the Gospels, Jesus frequently refers to himself as the Son of Man and alludes to Daniel 7:13 in his eschatological discourse (Matt 24:30) and during his trial (Matt 26:64). In either case, the cloud refers to God’s glory rather than a form of transportation. This “son of man” appears with the authority of God himself, whether he is the messiah or an angel.
In favor of this being the messiah: The fact this “son of man” is sitting on a cloud implies John has Jesus is in mind. In Revelation 1:7 the author says Jesus is coming back in the clouds. There is a difference, however. In Revelation 1:7 clouds are plural, here in Revelation 14:14 it is a singular cloud. Daniel 7:13 is clearly messianic. If Revelation 14 is alluding to Daniel, then John intends the reader to pick up on the rest of Daniel 7. In both cases the “son of man” is sitting in judgment over Israel’s enemies.
There may be a structural hint that highlights this “son of man” as different from the other angles in Revelation 14. There are seven persons in Revelation 14: three angels, the “son of man,” and then three more angels. If this observation is valid, then the section is centered around the appearance of the “son of man” on a cloud to render justice.
In favor of this being an angel: In Revelation 14: 17 another angel appears, implying the “son of man” another angel in the fourth of seven in Revelation 14. John usually refers to the messiah as the Lamb in Revelation. The verse also says this is “something like a son of man,” a way of saying “human like.” Since Revelation 14:17-20 seems to allude to the gory battle found in Ezekiel 38-39, perhaps John is influenced by Ezekiel’s “son of man,” which means “human.” Beale suggests this angel represents God, since he is coming from the temple in heaven, therefore the command comes from God rather than the angel (Revelation, 771).
The rest of the description of this “son of man” does not help determine whether John intends the reader to understand this as the messiah or an angel since the images might be applied equally to Jesus or to an important angel.
The “son of man” wears a “crown of gold” on his head. This a victor’s crown (στέφανος, stephanos) as opposed to the royal crown (διάδημα, diadima) which rider on the white horse wears in Revelation 19:12. That the crown is gold The image is intended to express authority, Aune 2:842, he translates this as a “wreath of gold” rather than a crown. A diadem is “the sign of royalty among the Persians, a blue band trimmed with white, on the tiara, hence a symbol of royalty.” (BDAG) There are only three occurrences in Revelation, once referring to Christ, the other two referring to Satan! (Rev 12:3; 13:1-2; 19:12).
He holds a “sharp sickle in his hand.” A sickle is a “a large, curved knife employed in cutting ripe grain” (LN 6.5) The word is only found in this chapter and once in Mark 4:29, a parable of referring to eschatological judgment as a harvest. The word appears in the Septuagint for a literal farm too, but in Joel 3:13 a harvest refers to eschatological judgment. Like Revelation 14, Joel 3:13 refers to a harvest of wheat (a sickle) and grapes (“the winepress is full”). Joel 3:14-16 has a number of apocalyptic images and refers to the “valley of decision.” The image of death carrying a sickle is common in western art, but is also found in apocalyptic literature:
Testament of Abraham [rec A] 8:9-10 Do you not know that all those who (spring) from Adam and Eve die? And not one of the prophets escaped death, and not one of those who reign has been immortal. Not one of the forefathers has escaped the mystery of death. All have died, all have departed into Hades, all have been gathered by the sickle of Death.
This “son of man” therefore is poised to begin the final judgment. The harvest is ripe, and the sickle is ready. Although it is possible this could refer to some angel of death, one function of the messiah is to render judgment. In Matthew 3:12 John the Baptist says the one who is coming in similar terms: his “winnowing fork is in his hand” and he will sort out the wheat from the chaff. The wheat will go into the barn, the chaff will be burned “with unquenchable fire.” There are several harvest parables in the gospels in which Jesus places himself as a farmer who will sort out the wheat from the weeds or the sheep from the goats.
It is therefore likely John intends the reader to hear the echoes of Daniel 7:13 and Joel 3:13-14 in his description of a son of man sitting on the cloud, prepared to begin the final harvest of the earth.
The message of the third angel is a further expansion of the condemnation of Babylon. Rather than drinking the maddening wine of Babylon, those that have accepted the mark will drink the wine of God’s fury. The wine of God’s fury is “unmixed” (ἄκρατος) or “full strength” in most modern translations. In the ancient world, wine was normally diluted with water. If it was not mixed with wine, then the drinker would get the full strength of the wine.
Making someone drink a cup of strong wine is a common metaphor God’s wrath in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 75:8 (LXX 74:9), “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (cf. Isa 51:17-22; Jer 25:15-17, Hab 2:16; Pss 11:6; 73:10). Describing God’s fury towards Jerusalem leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, the writer of the Psalms of Solomon said:
Ps Sol 8:13–17 (LES2) They trampled the altar of the Lord from every uncleanness, and they stained the sacrifices with ⌊menstrual blood⌋ like profane meat. 14 They left no sin undone that they did not do worse than the nations. 15 Therefore God mixed them a spirit of error. He gave them a drinking cup of unmixed wine to drink, for drunkenness. 16 He led the one from the end of the earth, the one who strikes strongly. 17 He decided on war against Jerusalem and her land.
John further describes God’s untempered wrath on those who worship the beast. The one who has taken the mark of the beast will be “tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” This disturbing image of judicial torture is shocking to most modern readers, but the original readers would have understood torture as part of the Roman judicial system. The verb translated torture (βασανίζω) refers to being put to the test in order to determine a person’s legal status. For example, the phrase βεβασανισμένος εἰς δικαιοσύνην appears in Plato’s Republic (361c), “having been tested/tortured for the purpose of justice.” The related noun βασανισμός refers to pain inflicted by torture (BDAG). In the fifth trumpet, the demonic locust tormented people for five months (Rev 9:5). The noun also appears in 4 Maccabees 9:6 for the “coercive tortures” inflicted on pious Eleazar.
Beale softens this by taking the torment as “primarily spiritual and psychological suffering” (760), although he does think Revelation describes “a real, ongoing, eternal, conscious torment” (763). The verb and noun have the sense of physical punishment which often resulted in death (4 Maccabees especially).
Those who have taken the mark of the beast will be tortured with fire and sulfur. Sulfur (θεῖον) had a number of uses in the ancient world and was sometimes used as a medicine. Older translations have brimstone, a common word used for what we call sulfur, “brunston.” People are tormented by fire and sulfur (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8) and the final judgment on the wicked is to be cast into “the lake of fire and sulfur” (19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
The prototypical image of God’s wrath is Genesis 19:24, God rained fire and sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham looked across the valley, he saw the smoke going up like “the smoke of a furnace” (Gen 19:28). Isaiah 30:33 describes God’s wrath on the king of the Assyrians as a long-prepared burning place kindled by “the breath of the LORD, like a stream of sulfur.” The psalmist calls on God to rain fire and sulfur on the wicked (Ps 11:6).
Surprisingly, this torment takes place in front of the Lamb and the holy angels. Although there is no other reference the punishment of the wicked in presence of a messianic figure or the angles, there are a number of examples of the he wicked being tormented before the righteous (1 Enoch 27:2-3, 90:26-27; 48:9; 4 Ezra 7:36 [possibly a Christian interpolation]) The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the rich man appears to be able to see Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
1 Enoch 27:1-3 At that moment, I said, “For what purpose does this blessed land, entirely filled with trees, (have) in its midst this accursed valley?” 2 Then, Uriel, one of the holy angels, who was with me, answered me and said to me, “This accursed valley is for those accursed forever; here will gather together all (those) accursed ones, those who speak with their mouth unbecoming words against the Lord and utter hard words concerning his glory. Here shall they be gathered together, and here shall be their judgment, in the last days. 3 There will be upon them the spectacle of the righteous judgment, in the presence of the righteous forever. The merciful will bless the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, all the day.
1 Enoch 90:26–27 In the meantime I saw how another abyss like it, full of fire, was opened wide in the middle of the ground; and they brought those blinded sheep, all of which were judged, found guilty, and cast into this fiery abyss, and they were burned—the abyss is to the right of that house; 27 thus I saw those sheep while they were burning—their bones also were burning.
If this scene evokes Roman practice, then torture in front of a conquering king makes sense. The king is seated on his throne with his military on display around him while the enemy is tortured publicly. In Revelation 14, the Lamb is the conquering king and judge who will oversee the judgment of the worshipers of the beast.
Revelation 14 concludes by returning to the followers of the Lamb. They will be blessed when they endure torment and die on “in the Lord” (14:13). John intentionally contrasts the worshipers of the beast and the worshipers of the Lamb (Rev 4:8-10). The words in 4:8c are identical to 14:11: the worship of the lamb never stops, just as the torture never stops never stops.