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It would be extremely fatalistic to dare to state that all the bowls of tribulation and so many more terrible events are the things
“that must come to pass”,
with the emphasis on ‘must’. Although the text allows this, another interpretation is possible, one that is not so obvious. The final goal of the Apocalypse is fixed: that God’s liberated ones, from every family and language and people and nation will reign as kings on earth. This ‘must’ and ‘shall’ happen. There is no disputing the fact, and it will be thanks to the
“golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”.
(Rev. 5:8) And thus not all the bowls are filled with tribulations. Hallelujah. Praised be the Lamb!
2 – Harvest cycle of mourning
A remarkable aspect of the cycle of occurrences in the book of Revelation is the way in which it regularly refers to a ‘harvest’. Rev. 6:6 speaks of
“A quart of wheat for a dena-rius ad three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine”.
In verse 13 we find mention of the fig tree that rejects its unripe fruits. In verse 4 of the ninth chapter is the following:
“They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing or any tree.”
In Chapter 14 from verse 14 onwards writes in terms of the grain and wine harvest, ending with the winepress being trampled, something that always occurs at the end of the season, this as a prelude to the seven final plagues. In the 19
chapter, where the victory of Christ over the false prophet is proclaimed, the winepress is once again trampled (verse 15). Israel’s cycle of feasts accentuates the important events of the harvest season – happy occasions. But here there is no thought of a cycle of joy but a cycle of mourning! The remarkable thing is that when all this is over and the tears have been wiped from the eyes and pestilential death has been conquered (Rev. 21:4) – an interpretation that matches up with the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘mut’ or ‘death’ – then at that stage the harvest cycle has turned into something quite different. Indeed, since everything is new. The tree of life (Rev. 22:3) will produce fruits every month. But all of this happens in a future which, at present, does not need to concern us, except for the fact that it helps keep our hopes alive that everything will come right. In order to obtain a better understanding of the harvest cycle of mourning, we can turn to Moses’ last speech at the gates of the Promised Land (Deut. 27-33), called in the book of Revelation the hymn of Moses. (2) Here Moses presents the blessing and the curse as two extremes in the same spectrum. He closes his speech (after which he transfers command to Joshua) with the following words:
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore choose life.”
(Deut. 30:19) What is that blessing exactly? The Lord will make you overflow with all that is good, in the fruit of your loins, in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your land; on the land that the Lord swore to your fathers He would give to you. The Lord will open the rich treasury of heaven for you in order to give your land rain at the appropriate time ad to bless all the works of your hands. (Deut. 28: 1-14) In the curse we find the mirror-image of the same words, but much more detailed (verses 15 to 68):
“The Lord will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with se-vere burning fever, with the sword, with scorching and with mildew (…) And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust (…) You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in”.
The text describes further dark disasters… You will plant vineyards yet drink no wine. You will have olive trees but will be unable to anoint yourselves. Pests will overtake all your orchards and the fruit of your land… No wonder that these verses have gained little popularity in Judaism. The harvest calendar of joy is mirrored in one of mourning, some-thing that continually comes into the foreground when God’s people leaves the right path.