Jesus, the Grim Reaper?

Jesus, the Grim Reaper? October 31, 2012

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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