THE CONSUMMATION: TREADING THE WINEPRESS
From the scene of destruction described in chapter 18 we turn to a cry of triumph voiced by a great company in heaven, saying, "Alleluia, Salvation and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgements: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication," Rev. 19:1, 2. Before we leave the prediction of Babylon's destruction, however, we should note this surprising feature, that in this prophecy there is no mention of the head of this system. In the preceding chapter (17) he is mentioned nine times, but in chapter 18 not at all. The beast has vanished. Will he flee from the scene of his age-long usurpation? Will he leave Rome after an association of more than 1300 years? Does he discern at that time some indication of coming judgement? We will leave this question in abeyance while we follow the details of the vision of Rev. 19, where the beast appears once more in verses 19- 21.
Verses 1-4 of chapter 19 close the record of the judgement of Babylon the Great. Chapters 17 and 18 have become history and chapter 19 begins with the declaration of the just judgement of God upon this hitherto powerful system.
Then in verse 7 there is the announcement of the marriage of the Lamb, described in verses 8 and 9. This is obviously the point in time when the true Church, the Bride of Christ, is united to the heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. The present writer agrees most heartily with the premillennial conviction that "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord," (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
When this event takes place, it is the Lord Himself who descends. Compare this with the revelation of the Lord mentioned through Ezekiel: "they shall know that I am Jehovah," (38:23) and "The House of Israel shall know that I am Jehovah their God," (39:22). This is a revelation, not merely to Christians but to Israel and to all mankind.
Commenting on 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Bagster points out the word keleusma, translated "shout" in the KJV, has the meaning of a military command (cf. also Ellicott's commentary and Weymouth's translation of this passage). 1 The military tone of the passage is further emphasized by references to the "trump of God", which Paul mentions elsewhere in connection with the resurrection of believers, "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible," (1 Cor. 15:52). The Lord Jesus Christ also referred explicitly to this glorious event, "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see that Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect...," (Matt. 24:30, 31). No secret coming and snatching away of believers by our Lord Jesus Christ will fit these predictions.
Returning to Revelation, chapter 19, this sequence of events begins at verse 6 with the concluding note of thanksgiving for the destruction of the harlot and in verse 7 takes up the theme of the marriage of the Lamb, i.e., the return in glory of the Lord Jesus, the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation of the redeemed waiting on earth. The event thus summarized in verse 7-9 is clearly nothing like an elopement, but is the most public manifestation of the Son of God and His glorified people.
He is identified in verse 13 by his "vesture dipped in blood" - pointing back to his sacrifice - and by his name, "the Word of God." "The armies of heaven follow him," the redeemed of all ages, coming not only from earth but also from heaven. Verse 15 identifies the coming conflict when he will tread the winepress of the fury and wrath of Almighty God, (cf. Isa. 63:1-6; Joel 3:12, 13; Rev. 14:17-20 and 19:15). This event is anticipated in Revelation 14:18b-20 and its fulfilment given in more detail in chapter 19. God himself is revealed (in the Old Testament passages referred to) as the one who treads the winepress; the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, to whom has been committed all judgement (John 5:22) is the one who accomplishes it.
In the agricultural life of Israel the gathering of the grapes and treading them in the winepress was the last of the autumn activities and, from references to it in Scripture, one of the most joyous. Here it is used symbolically of the great Battle of Armageddon to which the Son of God leads the redeemed from heaven and those just translated from the earth. The prophetic treading of the winepress is, at first sight, dreadful.
Dreadful also has been the appalling amount of bloodshed during this twentieth century - two world wars, large-scale massacres by the Communists in Russia and later in China, the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews, the Korean War and the Vietnam war, to say nothing of briefer conflicts such as the Six Day war in Israel and the war between India and Pakistan. One writer suggests that Armageddon may be an era of wars, which sounds plausible in view of the increase of aggressive nationalism. The final conflict of the ages, however, will be distinct from anything this world has yet seen.
The psalmist foretold the world-wide conspiracy against God when he wrote about the counsel of kings and rulers "against the Lord and against His anointed, saying 'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us'", (Psa. 2:2,3). The armed might of nations and the fury of atheistic propaganda does not deter God; instead he laughs and then turns his own fury upon the rebellious people who will be given to the Son of God when he comes to execute a shattering judgement upon those who have refused to acknowledge God.
The intensity and magnitude of the final conflict staggers the imagination, but the outcome is not in question. It is described in Revelation 19:11-21, where the incarnate Word of God, followed by the armies of heaven, comes to "smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God," (Rev. 19:15). The angel's summons to birds of the air to feast on the flesh of mighty men, of horses and riders (vs. 17, 18) recalls Ezekiel's prophecy of the same event after the battle described in chapters 38 and 39, when it will take seven months to bury the dead in the valley of Hamon-Gog. Even Satan is bound and imprisoned for a thousand years, after which he is defeated and destroyed in a final rebellion that ends like an atomic holocaust, with Satan thrown into the lake of fire to join the beast and the false prophet.
If these events overwhelm the imagination, how much more so the description of the new heaven and the new earth that ends the Revelation. No more sorrow; no more pain; no more death - nothing that is evil or the result of evil.
The aim of Biblical prophecy is not to arouse vain speculation about the future, but to authenticate the message of the prophets as the Word of God when what has been written comes to pass. It leads the serious student of prophecy to the pivotal point in history upon which everything depends - the crucifixion of Christ as an atonement for sin without which all mankind would end in the lake of fire. He died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. The final choice is with the individual - with you and me - as to whether we accept His sacrifice and become identified with Him in death and resurrection, or continue in our own way until it is too late to choose, and the only alternative is "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death," (Rev. 21:8).