Here is a truth you can take to the grave – and beyond. Every person on this planet will have to deal with Jesus Christ. And to put it at its most basic, we will have only two ways to do this. He will either be our Lord and Saviour, or he will be our judge and opponent.
To put it another way, every single one of us will bow the knee to Jesus Christ. The only question is, will we bow it willingly and gladly, or will we be forced to bow our knee, while still in ugly defiance and rebellion against the one true God of the universe?
These are our only options – there are no others. This may sound surprising, since the world of course has such distorted views of who Jesus is and why he came the first time two thousand years ago. But even more appalling is that most of our churches have it wrong as well.
Not only liberal churches, but even supposedly Bible-believing churches can get Jesus radically wrong. Far too often we simply have created an idol in our minds as to who Jesus is. He is portrayed as a nice guy, a buddy, a tree-hugging hippy, a social justice warrior, a nice moral teacher, an advocate of world peace, or a self-help guru who will give you a better life – now.
No one actually reading the Bible can come up with such distorted images of who Jesus is and what he does. Thus we first need to demolish all these false images of Jesus and then erect the true one. We need to be iconoclasts, destroying the false idols, and then we must deal with Jesus as he really is.
In a recent piece I sought to do just that, dealing with the real reason for Christmas. Let me refer readers to it: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/12/23/jesus-come-reason-christmas/
Here I want to return to how Scripture actually portrays Jesus, and do so by means of my daily reading. As I have often mentioned, if we read just over three chapters of the Bible a day, we can get through it in a year. Thus I am now in the closing chapters of Revelation, and on January 1 I will begin again with Genesis 1.
But what I read in Revelation 14 really took my breath away. I refer to verses 14-20 which say this:
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
Wow. Let those words sink in for a moment. This is no Jesus meek and mild. This is no Jesus my good buddy. This is no Jesus the celestial servant who exists merely to do our every bidding. This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords executing judgment on all those who have refused to bow the knee.
Indeed, the book of Revelation looks closely at the two humanities: those who have willingly aligned themselves with Jesus Christ and his purposes, and those who have opposed and hated Christ and his followers. We read of some horrible persecutions that the followers of the Lamb receive from the God-haters.
But then we read about the just judgement meted out to these rebels by the Lion of God. And this is one of the more hardcore depictions of the wrath of God being poured out on unrepentant sinners. It is utterly shocking just to read, yet it is a reality that those who keep shaking their fist at God will one day face.
The legendary ‘grim reaper’ comes from the reality of the one with the sharp sickle that we read about here. And this picture of judgment is just warming up here. There is much more in the book. As James Hamilton puts it,
Revelation 15, 16 depicts the outpouring of God’s wrath in the seven final bowls of his judgment, and then chapters 17, 18 show the fall of Babylon. John is giving us a carefully selected collage of images. These images of the harvest of the earth in 14:14–20, of the outpouring of the final bowls of wrath in chapters 15, 16, and the fall of Babylon in chapters 17, 18 all depict the same thing. They all depict the events of the end of history. This harvest pertains to people and to what people have done.
Consider also the picture of the winepress of God’s wrath. It has a long history in Scripture, especially in the prophets. Here are a few such passages:
Isaiah 63:2-4 Why are your garments red,
like those of one treading the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone;
from the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
and trod them down in my wrath;
their blood spattered my garments,
and I stained all my clothing.
It was for me the day of vengeance;
the year for me to redeem had come.
Joel 3:12-14 “Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
Related to this is the imagery of the cup of God’s wrath. See just a few of the Old Testament passages:
Psalm 75:8 In the hand of the LORD is a cup
full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
drink it down to its very dregs.
Isaiah 51:17, 22 Awake, awake!
Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes people stagger.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.
This all has to do with the judgment of God. But just as there are two humanities, there are two judgments. Jesus received the judgment of the Father at Calvary, so that those who repent and put their faith in him need not experience that judgment.
The Son felt the fullness of God’s wrath. He had to drink the divine cup to the full. As we read in Matthew 26:39 (= Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42) “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’.”
Thus Jesus suffered in our place that we do not need to face any more judgment. But for those who refuse this gracious offer will still indeed face the wrath of God. So the choice is fully ours. Cast yourself on the mercy of Christ, since he has drunk the cup of God’s wrath, or face that cup yourself.
We all must make this choice. Choose wisely.