Revelation 14:14-20

Revelation

Revelation 14:14-20

14 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. 15 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.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 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.” 19 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. 20 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.

Some truly amazing artifacts from the ancient world have survived into the present day. Here is one in particular, an ancient sickle used for reaping grain.

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A sickle was a common tool spanning across numerous people groups in the ancient world. The sight of it would have meant something very clear to ancient people (as, indeed, it does to many modern people today!), namely that it was time for reaping, for gathering in the harvest. Leon Morris writes of Revelation 14 and its imagery of sickles and of harvest:

This vivid way of speaking about the end of the world would come home with great force in an age when people were more familiar with agricultural processes than they are now. The harvest is the climax.[1]

This is helpful: the harvest is the climax. The sickle and the harvest meant the end of something, the end of the season when the grain was ripe and it was time to harvest. It was a symbol, then, of both completion but also of perfect timing. The good farmer knew when it was time to reap the harvest.

So, too, the Lord God knows when it is time to reap the nations, when the end has come, when the great ingathering and casting out finally comes upon the earth.

A reaping unto salvation.

We begin with a most amazing image:

14 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. 15 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.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

We must acknowledge that this is another area where interpreters are divided. It is possible to love the Lord and His word and understand our text in different ways. One point of controversy has to do with the harvest depicted in Revelation 14. Some see the reapings of Revelation 14:14-20 as one reaping of judgment told in two different ways. Others—and I would include myself in this camp—see two reapings in Revelation 14: the first unto salvation and the second unto judgment.

Again, there is genuine difficulty here and so we should not overly dogmatize on this question. Even those who believe there is only one reaping in Revelation 14 and it is a negative reaping unto judgment agree that the people of God will ultimately be gathered unto the Lord. They simply do not believe that reality is being depicted here. I, along with many others, would cautiously disagree for these reasons.

First, Jesus more than once spoke of a final harvest in positive terms, in terms of salvation. In Matthew 9, for instance, we read:

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Similarly, in Matthew 13:24-30, in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the culmination of the age is depicted as a harvest in which the wheat is gathered into the storehouse of God and the weeds are burned. So there, too, Jesus speaks of a kind of reaping with two components: unto salvation (for the wheat) and unto damnation (for the weeds).

Another point of controversy has to do with whether or not the one seated on the cloud in the first reaping is Jesus or an angel. I would propose this is Jesus. John writes in verse 14 that he sees “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.” The imagery is almost certainly from Daniel 7 (a book that John has drawn on before):

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

What is more, it is the same imagery used by Jesus in his trial in Matthew 26.

63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.

Those who believe this is an angel point out that in Revelation 14:14 the one on the cloud is “like a son of man” which sounds less definite than Jesus’ “you will see the Son of Man” from Matthew 26:64. And it is pointed out that the one on the cloud receives His instructions from an angel in verse 15 (““Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”), a picture that is hard to understand if this is Jesus. Yet others observe that the command from the angel would be, in fact, a command from the Father so that Jesus would not be obeying an angel, but, rather, the Father.

These are difficult questions, yet, on the whole, I am persuaded that the one on the cloud is Jesus and the first reaping is unto salvation. I would agree with the ESV Study Bible when it says:

Although both harvests could signify either God’s judgment on the wicked or Christ’s gathering of his saints, probably the grain harvest shows the Son of Man’s gathering of believers (cf. Matt. 13:30) and the grape harvest envisions the bloody destruction of the wicked.[2]

In other words, at the end of the age, Jesus will come in glory and power and there will be a great sorting: He will gather His people unto Himself and He will pour out His wrath on those who reject the Lamb of God. This will be in His perfect timing and for His ultimate glory.

There will be a time when Jesus says, “Enough! It is now time!” And He will put in the sickle of both salvation and judgment.

A reaping unto judgment.

There is no great controversy surrounding the second reaping. It is clearly unto judgment. It is a sobering picture to say the least:

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 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.” 19 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. 20 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.

What an image! How terrifying! It is an image found earlier in Joel 3

13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.

The harvest of the saved is reaped and gathered unto the Lord. But the harvest of the damned, depicted here as clusters of ripe grapes, are thrown “into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” And that is not all. The grapes are trodden, or walked upon, and “blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” The HCSB Study Biblereports that “the blood (from the climactic battle at His second coming in 19:19,21) rises to the height of horses’ bridles for some 180 miles.”[3] This is a scene of great and complete judgment!

I am in agreement with Robert Gundry when he writes:

In 14:14-20 two harvests are reaped, the first by one like a son of man on whose head rests a golden crown, the second by an angel who casts his harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath. The first harvest (vv. 14-16) is best taken as symbolic of the rapture. For the phrase “one like a son of man” identifies both the reaper of the first harvest and, in John’s first vision, Christ Himself (1:13; cf. John 5:27). Immediately we think of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky” (Matt. 24:30) and Paul’s comparison of the resurrection and translation of Christians to a harvest (1 Corinthians 15:23, 35ff.). The “white cloud” on which sits the reaper in John’s vision corresponds to the clouds associated with the Parousia in Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:9-11; and 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The special dignity indicated by the golden crown also points to the Lord. The second harvest in Revelation 14:14-20 lands the wicked in “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (vv. 19, 20, Armageddon; cf. Joel 3:13). But in the first there is only the reaping as though the Son of Man gathers the harvest to Himself. The two harvests, then, seem to be distinct. The one terminates before the other begins. The Son of Man reaps the first, an angel the second. The first lacks the element of wrath. The second exhibits it prominently. The first reaping immediately follows the beatitude upon “the dead who die in the Lord” (14:13). Consequently, a description of the rapture in which “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16) follows very fittingly. The conjunction with Armageddon (see v. 20: “blood…up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles” puts the rapture, figuratively described in the first harvest, at the close of the tribulation.)

Whereas we have in the whole of Revelation no description of a pretribulational return of Christ, rapture, or first resurrection—an absence incredible from the standpoint of the book’s being addressed to the churches and its purporting to reveal in detail final events—we do have the first harvest in 14:14-20, the return of Christ in 19:11ff., and the first resurrection in 20:4-6—all posttribulational.[4]

In other words, the two harvests are likely a depiction of the rapture at the close of the tribulation and of Armageddon. The first harvest being the gathering of God’s people to Himself and the second being the pouring out of God’s wrath.

Even here, however, I would urge caution. The great point of Revelation 14 is not the timing of disputed events and the construction of controversial chronologies. Those discussions have their place, but they are not preeminent above the pressing reality that the saved will be gathered to Jesus and those who reject the Lamb will be damned.

The main point, then, is not, “Oh, that makes sense. My understanding of end times events has been helped by this!” No! A thousand times no! The main point is this: “I must make sure I am saved and I must plead with the lost to be saved!”

The point, in other words, is not to appease your curiosity, it is to pierce your heart!

See the glory of the saved and see the misery of the damned! Do not let your prophecy charts and end times novels blind you to the great warning: we must flee the wrath and it is only in Jesus that the wrath of God passes over us.

A reaping on our behalf.

And why is this? Why is it only in the Lamb of God that we are saved from the wrath? Because, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, Christ took the wrath, took the punishment, upon Himself in our stead! He did this by becoming our sin on the cross.

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Isaiah prophesied the same in Isaiah 53 many years before Revelation was written.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Christ is wounded in our stead. Christ is trodden upon in our stead!

I used to teach a Bible class in a high school in south Georgia. In the Fall of 2009 The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University held an exhibit entitled “Scripture for the Eyes: Bible Illustration in Netherlandish Prints of the 16th Century,” which was a collection of Dutch and Flemish Bible woodcuts and engravings. I thought it would make a fun field trip to drive the kids up to Atlanta for this exhibit and got permission to do so. The kids seemed, on the whole, less interested in the Bibles than in the Ben & Jerry’s stop we made on the way back. Yet, in the midst of the Bibles and framed woodcuts of biblical scenes I came across a little image that stopped me in my tracks. Here is that image:

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I recall staring at that image and then calling the class to gather around it and study it more closely. I invite you now to do the same. Look closely at it. Jesus, the Son of Man, is being pressed down in the wine vat by the cross that is being lowered upon His back by the Father who is turning the handles of the crank. Above the cross is the Holy Spirit. So this is a picture of the Triune God involved together in the great work of man’s salvation. As Jesus is, in essence, crushed beneath the cross, the blood flows out into chalices held by angels, to be offered to all who will partake.

In other words, unlike the end of Revelation 14, in this picture it is Jesus who is trodden in the winepress of wrath and it is the blood of Jesus that flows.

Look at that picture. Look and hear again the words of Isaiah.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Hear me: Christ was trodden upon so that you need not be. The blood of Christ flowed so that you would never have to face the wrath of God.

Jesus took the wrath so that you can receive mercy.

Jesus took the wounds so that you can be healed.

Jesus drank the cup of wrath so that you can receive the cup of forgiveness.

Put your faith in Jesus. He will welcome you with open arms.

 

[1] Morris, Leon L.. Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 176). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 157284-157286). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[3] Holman Bible Editorial Staff, Holman Bible Editorial Staff. HCSB Study Bible (Kindle Locations 151921-151923). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Gundry, Robert Horton. Church and the Tribulation. Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

 

2 thoughts on “Revelation 14:14-20

  1. WOW!!!!!!!, what a clear and well…….. scary idea…….. sickle theology extra-ordinaire. Once again the WOW factor from CBCNLR makes the Iowa Hawkeyes win over Penn state seem like some sort of cosmic re-alignment joke. Good job Mr. Wymanator. :-) we love you

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