John has described the age in which the Gospel is going out, persecution abounds, and the church experiences all sorts of distress—the tribulation of which he is a partaker (cf. 1:9). After describing the dragon and two beasts, he turns now to describe the result of the tribulation experienced in this world—the harvests of the earth.
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14 Καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ νεφέλη λευκή, καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν νεφέλην καθήμενον ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, ἔχων ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ στέφανον χρυσοῦν καὶ ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ δρέπανον ὀξύ. 15 καὶ ἄλλος ἄγγελος ἐξῆλθεν ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ κράζων ἐν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῆς νεφέλης· Πέμψον τὸ δρέπανόν σου καὶ θέρισον, ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ὥρα θερίσαι, ὅτι ἐξηράνθη ὁ θερισμὸς τῆς γῆς. 16 καὶ ἔβαλεν ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τῆς νεφέλης τὸ δρέπανον αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐθερίσθη ἡ γῆ.
17 Καὶ ἄλλος ἄγγελος ἐξῆλθεν ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ἔχων καὶ αὐτὸς δρέπανον ὀξύ. 18 καὶ ἄλλος ἄγγελος ἐκ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, ὁ ἔχων ἐξουσίαν ἐπὶ τοῦ πυρός, καὶ ἐφώνησεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ τῷ ἔχοντι τὸ δρέπανον τὸ ὀξὺ λέγων· Πέμψον σου τὸ δρέπανον τὸ ὀξὺ καὶ τρύγησον τοὺς βότρυας τῆς ἀμπέλου τῆς γῆς, ὅτι ἤκμασαν αἱ σταφυλαὶ αὐτῆς. 19 καὶ ἔβαλεν ὁ ἄγγελος τὸ δρέπανον αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐτρύγησεν τὴν ἄμπελον τῆς γῆς, καὶ ἔβαλεν εἰς τὴν ληνὸν τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τὸν μέγαν. 20 καὶ ἐπατήθη ἡ ληνὸς ἔξωθεν τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν αἷμα ἐκ τῆς ληνοῦ ἄχρι τῶν χαλινῶν τῶν ἵππων ἀπὸ σταδίων χιλίων ἑξακοσίων.
The first harvest (v. 14-16)
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.
After seeing the dragon and two beasts, representing Satan and the heathen nations (Rome) and worldly religion (the imperial cult), and after seeing the saints gathered with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, John sees a white cloud. On the white cloud is one like a son of man—Daniel’s prophetic language referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ (cf. Daniel 7:13). This Messiah wears a golden crown, representing His majesty and kingship. He wields a sharp sickle. Jesus Christ is the one who reaps the harvest of the earth.
And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
In his vision, John sees an angel come out of the temple to tell Christ that the time for the harvest has come. The fruit of the earth is ripe. Christ swings His sickle over the earth and reaps the harvest. There is no indication, here, that the harvested fruit is removed from the earth in a secret rapture. It is, though, harvested. Jesus taught about this first harvest:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn”’ (Matthew 13:24-30).
Jesus also instructed His disciples concerning the harvest:
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38).
When Jesus taught John about the harvest, the very harvest John now sees in his grand vision, Jesus revealed that the wheat and the weeds would be harvested at the same time, the weeds would be thrown into the fire before the wheat was gathered into His barn, and that He was sending out harvesters because the fields were ripe. In fact, Jesus came in the First Century after spending centuries preparing the harvest through national Israel. In the First Century, Jesus came to reap His harvest. This harvest began in the First Century AD. People are being redeemed.
Christ instructed His disciples to pray that workers would be sent into the harvest. Then, in Matthew 10, Christ sent His disciples to reap a harvest. Once we become disciples of Jesus Christ, we become fellow workmen with Him, harvesters in His field—which is still ripe.
The second harvest (v. 17-20)
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.
Another angel exits the temple to harvest the fruit of the earth. Like the fruit harvested by Christ, this fruit is also of the earth and grew alongside the fruit of the first harvest. Another angel, one who has power over fire, instructs the angel with the sickle to reap the earth. John’s language clues us in to the fact that this harvest is different than the first and is destined for fire. The angel with the sickle swings his sickle and gathers the clusters of grapes. He throws the clusters into the winepress of God’s wrath. The wine press was trodden outside the city, Jerusalem (where the temple was located) and blood came out from the wine press up to the horses’ bridles for a distance of two hundred miles, or 1,600 stadia.
John’s vision of the harvest to wrath is more detailed than the his vision of the harvest to glory. It seems there are many more grapes, clusters, that are destined for the winepress of wrath than will inherit the earth. The blood of the grapes of wrath is not little but symbolically flows 1,600 stadia from Jerusalem up to a horse’s bridle.
1,600 stadia is either meant to be taken as a simple image to indicate a long distance or an apocalyptic number to mean a more than sufficient (1000) number of those who are unholy (6).
We also have the image of a winepress producing wine. This winepress imagery comes from Isaiah 63:
Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? “I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come. I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me. I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isaiah 63:1-6).
According to Isaiah’s prophecy against Edom, God would redeem His people, Israel, by trodding down the peoples in His anger and making them drunk in His wrath—pouring out their lifeblood. John employs this prophetic imagery to describe the second harvest of the earth. In every case, both harvests happen in conjunction with one another. The redemption of God’s people is accomplished alongside the damnation and destruction of God’s enemies. As we saw, Jesus identified the timing of the great harvest beginning at the time of His public ministry (cf. Matthew 9:36-38).
There are many who look for signs and wonders and assume that the righteous will be raptured out before the wrath of God comes upon the people of the world. According to John, and Jesus, the harvests happen simultaneously beginning with Christ’s incarnation. We are living during the great harvests of the earth. This passage says nothing about a secret rapture but everything about the reality of resurrection to both life and damnation. Christ has redeemed His chosen people, and the rest will be slaughtered. Like the prophecy against Edom, the blood of Christ’s enemies will stain His robe. Such imagery speaks to the seriousness of rebellion against God and the persecution of God’s chosen people. Remember, this is an image—symbolism meant to communicate the revelation of Jesus Christ. All of God’s enemies will die and remain as a testimony about the person and work of God in Christ. We are either in Christ, part of the first harvest depicted by John, or not, part of the second harvest depicted by John.
May the saints be encouraged. The enemies of God will not inherit the earth. God will have His vengeance. We will one day see the fullness of God’s justice—a harvesting work that began at the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our Messiah who won the victory on Calvary.