Jesus, the Grim Reaper?

The depiction of a figure seated on a cloud and wielding a sickle in Revelation 14 is striking for several reasons. Is the figure supposed to be Jesus? If so, some may find it unsettling to imagine him taking on a role that is reminiscent of the Grim Reaper. And since it is Halloween, I thought I would comment on this point that came up in my Sunday school class this past Sunday, since it seems so appropriately seasonal.

(Then again, the personification of Death more characteristically wields a scythe, and so perhaps it will be the depiction of a figure who might be Jesus holding one of the two classic symbols of the Communist Party that some will find even more terrifying than “Jesus as the Grim Reaper” – especially in the run up to elections in the United States!)

But seriously, the depiction of this figure harvesting the earth – which presumably means taking human lives from the earth which are “ripe for the picking” – and throwing its “grapes” into the winepress of God’s wrath, so that an enormous river of blood flows for miles (and very deep, even if the bridles mentioned in the verse were on Shetland ponies) – is one of the most gruesome images in the Bible. Absolutely suitable for Halloween – but in its Biblical context, what do you make of it?

Another intriguing element in Revelation is the reference to “another angel” right after the mention of this “one like a son of man.” Does that suggest that this figure is also an angel? And if so, then is this the same “one like a son of man” that John describes seeing in chapter 1? Does the phrase here, as in Daniel 7, simply mean a figure that looks human, as opposed to the strange beasts sometimes depicted in apocalyptic visions, without anything being said about their nature?

The question of how various New Testament authors formulated their Christology, i.e. their understanding of who Jesus was and is, is one that I have a longstanding interest in (and you can read my thoughts on the matter in detail in my books The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context and John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology.

Let me add that I felt torn between wanting to include an allusion to the famous Blue Oyster Cult song “”Don’t Fear the Reaper” in the title of this port, and the title I eventually went with. So what do you think? Does this post need more cowbell?

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  • I find the (Jesus?) figure in Revelations 1 even scarier:

    “14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

    It’s the eyes on fire and sword protruding out of the mouth that freak me out!

    • Ya, that’s definitively Jesus according to what follows, more so 1:18, 2:18, etc.
      Here is the best physical description of Jesus (on a second coming!). So I wonder why Christians did not ever represent him as such. Or did they?

  • Brian

    My preference.

    • Brian

      Guess leaving a photo isn’t allowed .

      • There is a little button on the bottom left of the comment box. If it doesn’t work, let me know!

  • This is what I wrote on my website for this “like a son of man” of rev14:

    “Note: a “Jewish” Son of Man. This one is an angel as
    implied by the next verse, not Jesus (earthly or heavenly), the Christian “Son
    of Man” in the gospels (including GJohn) and 1:13. Probably inspired by the
    “like a son of man” in Daniel7:13. Let’s also notice this “Son of Man” resides
    on a cloud, when the heavenly Jesus is repeatedly placed at the right hand of
    God in the N.T. (Ro8:24, Col3:1, Hb1:3,8:1,10:12,12:2, 1Pe3:22, Mk14:62,16:19,
    Mt26:64, Lk22:69, Ac2:33,7:55,56). Furthermore, how could the heavenly Jesus be
    both at the same time, the “Son of Man” on a cloud and the Lamb on God’s
    Obviously this verse could not have been written by a Christian.”

    This “like a son of man” reaps the good ones in verses 15-16 and then the bad ones in verse 19.

    The Christian additions at 1:12-18 DO identify the “like a son of man” as Jesus “I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever”. There is more such identification in the letters such as “Son of God” (2:18) and in 2:8, 2:12, 2:27, 3:3, 3:5, 3:14. etc.

    I cannot understand why so many keep seeing Revelation as written by one Christian author and try to interpret the mess created by a Jewish apocalypse savagely interpolated by Christians. So many zillions of hours and words wasted, sometimes by great minds!

  • In the Jewish version, the Lamb and the “like a son of man” are two different entities. The “like a son of man” is the harvester, first of the “good” ones, then of the “bad” ones (ch14). Also, he may be the one (cross-referencing through ‘Daniel’) who started as the child Messiah saved to heaven right after his birth (ch12) and later become the no-name super warrior of the reconquest and finally the ruler over the Gentiles (outside the New Jerusalem) (ch19).
    The Lamb is rather silent and not active. He will become the co-ruler of the New Jerusalem.
    Rather simple and clear.

    But the Christian additions will identify both the “like a son of man” (on a cloud) and the Lamb (on God’s throne) with the heavenly Jesus, who also becomes the super warrior (ch19) (consequently was also the child Messiah spirited to heaven). These same additions will also have this Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega (22:13) (the same for God Almighty!: 1:8), the First and the Last (1:17, 2:8, 22:13), the Beginning and the End (22:3), Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14, 19:16), the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5) and the Shepherd (7:17). He is also identified as the Son of God (2:18), the Word of God (19:13) and the Offspring of David (22:16).
    Rather messy, absurd and heretical.

  • GRJ

    You’re not too far from the truth. I went looking for this question, looking for the answer. You might be more right than you realize, and after your post I find I was on the right track. After all, Jesus resurrects, and the GR raises the dead… Zombies… Whats the difference? Now if Jesus is responsible for the Zombie apocalypse… Then whats the difference between good and evil? Reapers are, after all, angels. But is GR Evil? Is he a monster… And if one was to be the GR, could he decline? Or is there a choice?