The bifocal vision of the apocalyptic imagination

In the fourteenth chapter of Revelation, John beholds a Christophany, the appearance of Christ harvesting the earth:

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. (14:14-20)

Anglican Joseph Mangina’s commentary is worth quoting because he upholds the paradoxical tensions within Christ and emphasizes the numerical significance behind the Lamb’s bloody self-sacrifice:

The apocalyptic imagination is characterized by its “bifocal vision.” Although, among the powers of this world, Babylon is the greater shedder of blood, this image fuses in John’s mind with the blood of the slaughtered Lamb and of his followers. Christ’s death thus becomes the definitive Christian interpretation of the words spoken by YHWH in Isaiah: 

I have trodden the winepress alone,
and from the peoples no one was with me; 
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood splattered on my garments,
and stained all my apparel. (Isa. 63:3)

Christ then, is both the harvester and the harvested, he who treads the vintage and he who is trodden upon by the powers of this world. He is “the trampled grape, the wine poured out, the dead for all the dead, the condemned for all the condemned” (Jacques Ellul). The blood of Christ is a sign not of death but of life. Moreover, the sheer quantity of the blood that flows from the winepress – “as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” – suggests the extraordinary scope of Christ’s act of self-offering. Four is the number of the cosmos, of creation; four squared indicates absolute intensification; four squared multiplied by one hundred indicates that this blood is sufficient to drown an empire. As the armies of Pharaoh were swept away by the waters of the Red Sea, so the demonic powers and their agents will be swept away not by military prowess but by the life-giving blood of the Lamb.  


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