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A Look Back

The New Testament brought a number of surprises to me, reading it for the first time. As a refresher, I was raised Catholic but never read the Bible before, and I did so this time straight through without much study. I had some prior understanding of the contents through attending church and participating in the sacraments, but that was all.

The most unexpected parts were the passages showing Jesus with a temper. I had known the story of his flipping over the tables when the money changers were in the temple, but that was easily understood with his long antagonistic relationship with the hierarchy of the Jewish officials, the ones he believed were causing real harm to Israel with their lack of piety.

What’s harder to understand is Jesus getting angry at a fig tree for not bearing fruit when he was hungry and condemning it, causing it to wither. What’s more surprising is his proclamation that he was there to turn families against each other, fathers against sons and mothers against daughters.  My picture of Jesus had always been of someone constantly mellow, the most “live and let live” person in all of history. That is simply not the case.

Also surprising was just how flawed the apostles were. I knew they weren’t perfect, but not to that level. They constantly got Jesus’ message wrong and needed him to spell it out for them. They had bickering and infighting. Many were clearly in for it for glory rather than pure altruism. Once Jesus was crucified, they seemed to forget many of his messages. The accepted wisdom of the Christian faith is God used imperfect people to carry out his vision, showing his mercy and acceptance of all. This is used to inspire people to not get down about their shortcomings, and to realize that anyone can be called to do God’s work. Personally, I think it would be better if the people in charge of creating a new religion designed to save everyone’s souls had a firmer grasp of the principles God and Jesus were trying to get across.

Then, of course, there was Paul. The most influential Christian started out as a Jew persecuting Christians, punishing them with death. Then after his conversion, he became about as obnoxious a born-again Christian as there could be, which is really saying a lot. He is very different from what I pictured the founders of the Christian faith to be like.

Related to Paul, because so much of his teachings come from letters he wrote to various churches, there’s the idea of the different audiences for the books of the New Testament. The Old Testament was very much written to be for everyone. It’s both history and guidebook, but it is written for all. That’s not the case with the New Testament. It certainly has books like that — the gospels and Acts, notably, are accounts of events meant to tell the story of Jesus and the apostles. Many other books, however, are letters. They were written for one (or multiple) churches. Admonitions that stand out strongly in certain letters are because the members of those churches were not following certain tenets of the faith (many times because the faith hadn’t really been fully fleshed out yet). Various words of wisdom and other parts of those books were intended for specific people, not as widely distributed texts. I’m sure if you asked Paul to write a missive to everybody who was interested in being a good Christian, the tone and substance would be radically different.

Finally, there is Revelation. It would be easy to dismiss Revelation as kooky and crazy. I’m willing to give John of Patmos the benefit of the doubt though. The writings are clearly layered with such an intense degree of symbolism that reading it as having any degree of literalism to it is silly. The beast with seven heads and ten horns is not a creature with those features. Each feature represents a different aspect of a power on Earth.

It is just as foolish to try to find signs of the prophecy in that book in the modern time. John made it very clear that the apocalypse he was writing about was coming in the lifetimes of the readers, and those readers, as mentioned above, were receiving this text in a letter format. They were the members of seven churches. Many of the symbols are very clearly concerning Rome. Whatever parts of the prophecy were to come true would have happened nearly 2,000 years ago.

All in all, it was well worth the read. Son of God or not, Jesus was a historically important figure whose words and actions shaped the world. Reading what that meant at the time was fascinating. And believer or not, he had many teachings that were simply good ideas. If you choose not to look at him as a prophet or messiah, then as a philosopher I believe he still stands up.


Revelation, Part 14: The End Is Just a New Beginning

The world has been purged of its evils; the beast and false prophet were defeated 1,000 years ago and thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, and after waging war anew, Satan has joined them. Good has triumphed over evil on Earth, so all that is left is for God to set up eternity the way He wants it.

Revelation, Chapter 20: 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

All of the dead are called before God for the final judgment. Earth and the heavens are gone. This is going to be entirely new. Even death and Hades — the afterlife to that point — are condemned to the sulfury lake of burning fire. Anyone who has done good deeds has their name in the book of life. Anyone whose name is not in the book life goes in the lake. Everything is finalizing. Everything is starting.

Revelation, Chapter 21: 1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

God will live among the people in this new Jerusalem, and there will be no more death, no more mourning, and no more pain. All will be the perfection He tried to give mankind in Eden. But the garden needed to be weeded to be perfect.

Revelation, Chapter 21: He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

The new Jerusalem is described (at length) as a marvelous city of great size and splendor. And because it is only full of the righteous, it has some extra perks.

Revelation, Chapter 21: 22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.

There is some more description about the glory of the new city, but that is essentially the end of the revelation to John at Patmos. As you finish up this crazy story, it should be remembered that this is all a letter to the Christians. This isn’t John writing down a crazy dream he had and then wondering if anyone would ever find it — he wrote this as a warning to fellow believers. Believers who could very well think he was completely insane.

But of course, John dispels any notion that could be the case.

Revelation, Chapter 22: The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

And just to point out one other thing regarding the whole point that he was writing a letter to his contemporaries: this was not a warning to people 2,000 years later; this was imminent. John points this out a couple of times.

Revelation, Chapter 22: 10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Then comes the conclusion of Revelation, and of the Bible, with a warning.

Revelation, Chapter 22: 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.


Revelation, Part 13: The War to End All Wars

Lost in all the praise for God going on is that at this point all they have done is eliminated a prostitute. There’s still much to contend with, like beasts and monsters and armies. For that, you need a Big Damn Hero. John gives us the template.

Revelation, Chapter 19: 11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

The resemblance is uncanny.

The resemblance is uncanny.

The armies of heaven follow him, because come on. Even they are impressed with this guy. Also, he has a sword sticking out of his mouth. Did I mention that? Because he totally has a sword sticking out of his mouth. His orthodontist must hate him.

The sword comes in handy, because the armies of the beast have all gathered, presumably still at Armageddon, ready to wage war against the heavenly armies. This is a poor choice on their part. The beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown into the “fiery lake of burning sulfur.” The armies do not fare much better.

Revelation, Chapter 19: 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

Then it’s Satan’s turn.

An angel comes down with a key to the Abyss, and an epic battle between the supreme forces of good and evil begins with a clash that makes souls weep.

Revelation, Chapter 19: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

Or, you know, the angel just grabs Satan and throws him into the Abyss and locks him up. That… that’s just as exciting. Sigh.

Also notice the temporary nature of Satan’s Abyssal imprisonment, and note how he gets out. He doesn’t break out. Instead, he “must be set free.” An outside agent grants him his release. No reason is given as to why that must happen, but it is conceivably God’s will.

This dramatic if sparsely described war finally gets the faithful their just rewards. Everyone who was beheaded for testifying the good word of Jesus and everyone who didn’t worship the beast are brought back in the first resurrection to reign with Christ for 1,000 years. Everyone else has to wait the thousand years for their chance at resurrection.

Of course, there’s far more to the end of the thousand years than the rest of the dead being resurrected. There’s the matter of Satan being set free from the Abyss.

Upon his release, he wastes no time. He goes out to deceive the nations across all four corners of the world, called Gog and Magog. He brings them together for battle and amasses a gigantic army, with the members numbering like sand on a seashore. They sweep across the Earth to come to the city of God’s chosen people, where, finally, the epic clash takes place.

Revelation, Chapter 20: They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

Come on, John. We get like 20 lines of angels singing praise to God for smiting a prostitute, and one sentence to describe the battle between Satan’s forces and heaven. And yeah, I get that there’s probably an important message about praising God being more important than violent defeat of evil, but another message is that descriptions of violence are way more interesting than reading a bunch of hallelujahs. This is a True Fact.

And what of Satan? He is finally finished.

Revelation, Chapter 20: 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Note there is nothing in there about Satan ruling Hell. He is just as much a prisoner and sufferer as any of the rest of the damned. The Satan of the Bible is so different from the commonly perceived Satan, likely due to so little of the text being about him (and details being so sparse in general) that a lot was inferred. Plus, it always helps to have a scary boogeyman (like the Krampus), and he would fit the bill, particularly when the Catholic Church was running the Western world. Considering how much else is different, I’m almost surprised he is thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulfur, but that much at least is Biblical.

Revelation, Part 12: The Pretty Woman Prequel

Now that the angels have poured out the plagues, one of them gets bored and decides to take John on a sightseeing tour.

Revelation, Chapter 17: 1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

That’s promising! That is the last thing that makes any kind of sense in this chapter.

The angel takes John into the woods, where they see a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. The beast has seven heads with ten horns, because that’s just how beasts are for John, and it is also covered with blasphemous names. The woman is dressed as you’d expect a great prostitute to be, especially if she was also her own pimp: in purple and scarlet, covered with gold and jewels, and holding a cup filled with “abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” Ew.

John notices, somehow, that she’s drunk on the blood of God’s holy people. She also has a name written on her head that John can’t figure out.

Revelation, Chapter 17: The name written on her forehead was a mystery:




Thankfully, John has the helpful angel around to explain everything.

Revelation, Chapter 17: 8 “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.”

That makes it seem as though the beast is the first beast that rises out of the Abyss. It’s not exactly clear why, since this happened after all of the events of the apocalypse, the beast now is not but will still come out of the Abyss. But fine, maybe time is not strictly linear in this story. Let’s go with it.

Then there’s a lot more about what the beast represents. The seven heads are apparently seven hills upon which the woman sits (clearly representative of Rome), but they are also seven kings. Of those kings, five have fallen, one currently reigns, and one is yet to come but will reign for only a little while. And then the beast is an eighth king. This definitely seems to be taking place before all the other events in Revelation.

The ten horns also represent kings, and they will come to power when the beast does, and they will wage war against Jesus, and they will fail, of course.

Because nobody can beat G.I. Jesus.

And even though the prostitute is riding the beast and all the kings, that is not to their liking.

Revelation, Chapter 17: 16 “The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

As it turns out, the woman is “the great city that rules all the kings of the Earth.” This is Babylon. This is the clear-cut explanation for what John sees. This is the kind of thing that causes people to see the signs of the apocalypse all the time: nothing is clear at all.

Then another angel comes down from Heaven.

Revelation, Chapter 18: With a mighty voice he shouted:

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it already happened. Now we are definitely back in time.

The angel continues on for some time in this account, advising people to abandon Babylon the prostitute and detailing her fall. Clearly the angel takes great pleasure in detailing this fall, and John has no problem relating the whole thing, which is likely indicating the fall of Rome, the world power of the time, and the city that rules Israel. Here’s a sample:

Revelation, Chapter 18: 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

“With such violence
the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
never to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp
will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”

After that, the multitudes in heaven sing the praises of God about the fall of Babylon. For a long time. Much longer than they sang His praises at any other point during Revelation. The fall of Babylon is a very happy time for the faithful.

It’s such a happy occasion that it calls for a wedding celebration!

Revelation, Chapter 19: Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

There is no indication who Jesus is marrying (if this were really a Pretty Woman prequel, it’d be the redeemed prostitute, but I don’t think that’s likely the case here). Whoever the blushing bride is, you don’t want to miss the party.

Revelation, Chapter 19: Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Of course they’re blessed to be invited; after all, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding, so you know it’s open bar.

It’s with this that we find angels are not superior to people.

Revelation, Chapter 19: 10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”

Well, I mean, they have all kinds of powers and whatnot, but otherwise they’re not superior.

Revelation, Part 11: A Plague of Plagues

John begins the next chapter with what he describes as a ‘great and marvelous sign’: seven angels with seven plagues! Yes, they are marvelous. He uses this ebullient term because they are the seven final plagues of God; once they’re done, God’s wrath will be finished, His cup emptied. Which is good, because these plagues make the ones he set upon Egypt look like the mild disapproval of a soft parent.

At this point, the 144,000 righteous left on Earth have prevailed over those who worshiped the beast, and in their victory they’re all given harps. That is the reward for being part of the final victory of good over evil. A harp.

And not even the good kind of Harp.

After the requisite praise-song by the harpists, John gets his marvelous sight of the seven angels coming out of the temple with their seven plagues. I don’t get how the plagues are something he can see the angels holding, since the plagues are things that happen elsewhere, but John stopped making sense a long time ago. Then the ending of Lost is explained.

Revelation, Chapter 15: Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.

Right? That’s what happened on Lost? God was a smoke monster preventing people from entering His temple of doom, and the polar bear was Elijah attacking them? Man, who even cares; that show was terrible. Maybe God is so full of wrath because of that show and the harsh letdown it called its final season.

The angels go down and start spilling the bowls full of smoky wrath on the Earth. It’s marvelous to behold.

Revelation, Chapter 16: The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

Remember, that’s the first plague: everybody gets terrible sores. I feel comfortable saying “everybody” because at this point the 144,000 are harping it up in heaven and everyone else worshiped the beast, so it’s everybody.

The next plague hits the oceans, which are turned into blood so that everything living in the seas dies. The oceans don’t just turn into any blood either, but into “blood like that of a dead person” so you know it’s serious.

The third plague takes care of the rest of the water, turning the rivers and lakes into blood and killing everything in them too. This plague gets a holy blessing.

Revelation, Chapter 16: Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

But there’s no time for that; we have other marvelous plagues to get through. Remember, we have to get through these plagues so the people who don’t suffer from them can get into God’s temple in heaven. For a reason that I’m sure makes sense somehow.

The fourth plague is poured out onto the sun, which allows it to scorch people with fire. That’s how it puts it: the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. Like it’s been sitting up in the sky all this time, just wanting to lash out and burn people with its solar flares, but it’s been held in check. Now the shackles are off, and now it’s the people who have finally had enough.

Revelation, Chapter 16: They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

Cover them in sores, turn all of the water on Earth into blood, and kill all aquatic life and the people are fine. Severe sunburns, though, and they have had ENOUGH.

Their curses, of course, do nothing to stop the plagues, and the next one goes directly after the leaders of this unholy group.

Revelation, Chapter 16: 10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

This one really doesn’t seem that bad. The kingdom was plunged into darkness, which I can understand isn’t the best situation, but compared to everything else that’s happened, why are they gnawing their tongues in agony over this? Is it just due to starvation because of crop failure and whatnot? Is a lack of Vitamin D that terrible (and immediate)?

The sixth plague is where the people of Earth decide it’s time to fight back. This one dries up the Euphrates River to prepare for the coming of the Kings of the East. And kings, they are a-coming, thanks to some… demonic regurgitated frogs?

Revelation, Chapter 16: 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

But they were destined to fail because of that one level that was completely impossible to get past. I don’t even want to think how much time I wasted on that stupid level.

The kings all gather together in a little place called ‘Armageddon.’

As it turns out, this is extremely anticlimactic, as no actual war is described. The kings gather and then immediately the text goes into the seventh angel pouring out the seventh plague.

Revelation, Chapter 16: 17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

So, yeah, the most destructive earthquake in the history of forever wrenches the world apart, covering islands and destroying mountains, and then 100-pound hailstones fall on the world. That’s incredible and awesome and all that, BUT EVERYONE JUST GATHERED FOR A GIGANTIC WAR IN A PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON COME ON SOMETHING MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED THERE. GET WITH THE DESCRIPTIVE NARRATION.

Revelation, Part 10: Reap What You Sow

Heaven has come to Earth, but this isn’t a love song. It’s time for some righteous gardening.

First up, Jesus comes for the 144,000 who stayed loyal to him, and we find out more about the makeup of this group.

Revelation, Chapter 14: Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

The 144,000 are all virgins who sing songs everyone else avoids.

Just out of curiosity, how big is this cast now?

Then an angel flies overhead, loudly proclaiming the time of God has come, strongly suggesting that everyone give him praise and glory. Then another angel flies overhead, and he has a way with words.

Revelation, Chapter 14: A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

“The Maddening Wine of Her Adulteries” is the new name of this blog, okay? Spread the word. I suppose it would also work as a band name, maybe for a prog rock group.

Another angel flies overhead with another message: doom for all those who have been leading a life of sin by following the wrong people, with more great language. John could write.

Revelation, Chapter 14: A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

There are metal songs called “Drinking the wine of God’s fury from the cup of his wrath” right?

Terrifying time for people on Earth. Three heavenly bodies have just flown overhead, proclaiming in unnaturally loud voices that God’s time has come, that the great city has fallen, and that God’s anger will be taken out hardcore on anyone who followed the beasts, which is pretty much everyone.

John now sees a guy sitting on a cloud, wearing a golden crown and holding a sharp sickle. No big deal. Another angel comes out and tells the cloudrider that the time of harvesting has come, so go ahead and reap the Earth.

Revelation, Chapter 14: 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

Just like that. No big deal.

I mean, I guess it’d be nice to know what that meant, that the earth was harvested. It doesn’t clarify that at all.

The harvesting wasn’t complete, however, because another angel with a sickle comes out and he’s told to harvest the grapes of the Earth, because they’re ripe.

Revelation, Chapter 14: 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 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.

First of all, that’s an incredible sickle that can be so successful at gathering grapes from the vine. Usually those have to be picked. Second of all, why is God such an angry drunk? Everything about wine in this book is about it being related to God’s wrath it seems. Third of all, why does it turn to blood? And why so much blood? 1,600 stadia is roughly equivalent to 180 miles.

I guess the grapes are symbols for people? And they’re ground up due to God’s wrath, accounting for all the blood.

Whatever it is, God’s wrath is just getting started. We have more plagues coming.

Revelation, Part 9: Warn the Town, the Beast is Loose

Satan is on Earth and looking to take out all his aggression, and he decides to enlist some help. Once again, the imagery is all kinds of crazy.

Revelation, Chapter 13: 1 The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

Interestingly enough, when Satan was described as the great dragon last chapter, he also had seven heads with ten horns, but he only had seven crowns on his head. Despite this crown imbalance, it’s still Satan who imbues the beast with authority. It’s also noted one of the heads of the beast appeared to have a fatal wound that had healed. Which makes me wonder both how you would consider that a fatal wound if it had healed, but also who it’s supposed to be. Would it be a contemporary figure, like a Caesar? Maybe Goliath? Or, like in Daniel’s visions, does each head represent a world power, and the wounded head represents a fallen power prophesied to return?

Whatever the case, the beast is certainly powerful, and people look upon it with wonder. They worship both the beast and the dragon, who gave the beast its authority. It’s said it has the authority to rule for 3 1/2 years. The beast speaks proud words and blasphemies. He slanders God, heaven, and those who live in heaven. It has the power to wage war against God’s chosen people and win, and it does so, claiming authority over all the world. Everyone on Earth worships the beast — everyone, that is, except the righteous few who still follow Jesus. This is one of the few times John takes a break from heavy narrative to provide a clear message.

Revelation, Chapter 13: 10 This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.

Then, because one beast is so good, two beasts must be better: Satan calls forth a second beast. This one only has two horns like a lamb, but it speaks like a dragon. Which is a weird simile since I’m not entirely sure dragons were really known for their speaking. I think I’m bad at symbolism.

The second beast is the first beast’s right-hand man, going out and exercising its authority on the first beast’s behalf. It performs a number of great signs, even calling down fire from the sky in front of everyone. People absolutely follow this beast. He tells them to set up an image of the first beast, and they do so immediately.

But an image is just an image. So the second beast breathes life into the image so it can talk. Also so it can kill anyone who doesn’t worship it. It does that. That is a thing that happens.

That’s not enough for the second beast though, and he decides he needs to know who is committed to the authority of the beasts.

Revelation, Chapter 13: 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

And there we go: the mark of the beast. The origin of 666 as the number of the devil (even though it says explicitly it’s the number of a man or humanity, depending on the translation).

Everything is going the way of the beasts, but heaven is about to make its presence felt.