The Triumph of the Gospel (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 14)

Revelation 14:6-7, 14-16

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”…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.

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.95-96, 99-100. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

Once again the apocalyptic vision is directed downward, not this time to be fascinated by the hypnotic eyes of the serpent, but to watch the Gospel at work … The Gospel is indeed the Gospel of love and comfort and all grace, because it is the Holy Creator who has in Jesus Christ in order to let the whole of human evil go over Him. It is in the preaching of the Gospel that the same God of Righteousness and Truth confronts men. This intervention in meekness and suffering is a violent and masterful force in history. It is indeed God’s almighty power, and so the Gospel is still the secret of what happens in the painting_example_chris_koelle2world. This Gospel of pure grace, which deals with men solely on the basis of the death of Christ, cuts away the ground from beneath our feet and passes a total judgment upon the world for which Christ died. Because it is the Gospel of universal forgiveness, it bears at its heart a divine judgment which is the crucial fact that determines all history, so that every crisis in human affairs falls under its action and reflects its meaning.

If the modern Church has lost the note of anguished constraint under the love of Christ, the note of desperate urgency in the evangelization of the world, it is because she has tended to detach the love of Christ from the Cross. But in the New Testament and in the faith of the early catholic Church, the Gospel of Christ crucified was brought right into the center of life and preaching so that the smouldering fires of divine judgment, the resistance of love against all that is not of love, gave to the Church’s love a stringent and irresistible constraint. It also injected elements of desperate urgency and decisiveness into all her relations with the world. The smouldering fire of divine judgment, the irresistible will of holy love against all that is unholy and unloving, is what St. Paul called the “terror of the Lord,” or what St. John calls the “wrath of the Lamb.” That is why it is impossible for the Church at any time to come to easy terms with the contemporary order, for the God of love is in her midst and by the preaching of the cross He smites the image of human empire and intervenes with mercy and truth in every form of human existence and action, economic, social, political, national, international. That is why the world is thrown into such ferment, because the Incarnation is God’s attack upon the inhumanity of man, because the Gospel of love and freedom is God’s assault upon the forms and orders of the world fashioned to serve human selfishness and greed and pride…

It is a terrifying spectacle, as it appears from the side of the angels. There is an angelic counterpart to all that happens on the earth. The Church preaches the Gospel and bears witness to Jesus Christ, but behind the human action it is a supernatural power that gives it all increase and brings it to its great fruition in the Kingdom of God. And men make war and work devastations upon the face of the earth. They unlock the mighty powers of nature and let them rage over the earth in their fury and wrath, but behind all that there is a supernatural hand thrusting in the sickle of judgment, for it is a matter of life and death, of the kingdoms of this world, and the Kingdom of God and His Christ. It is thus that the Apocalypse teaches us to look behind the outward facade of earthly events in Church and nation, in peace and war, in age after age. We see ripening throughout them all the moment of harvest when at last God will utterly divide the right from the wrong, the truth from the falsehood, the wheat from the tares, when all evil and unrighteousness, all suffering and death, and all that is imperfect and corruptible shall utterly pass away, and the perfect and the holy and all that serves the love of God shall endure.