Old Testament Reading: Joel 3:9–16
“Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 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. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” (Joel 3:9–16, ESV)
New Testament Reading: Revelation 14:14-20
“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. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 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.’ 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. 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.” (Revelation 14:14–20, ESV)
There are two interpretations of Revelation 14:14-20 that I find plausible. One interpretation is that these verses describe only the judgment of the ungodly on the last day. The other interpretation is that these verses describe two things: first, the ingathering of the godly, and then the judgment of the wicked on the last day.
Notice that John, in verses 14-20, sees two figures who have a sickle in their hands (a sickle being a long curved blade that would be used by farmers to reap grains or fruits). First he saw “one like a son of man, with… a sharp sickle in his hand… who… swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.” “Then [an] angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle… 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.”
And so there are two who have sickles, and these two both reap a harvest. The question is, do both of these harvests describe the judgment of the wicked on the last day, or do they describe two different events.
Without a doubt the second harvest – the one described in verses 17-20 – does depict the judgment of the wicked on the last day, for the grapes that are harvested are said to be thrown into “the great winepress of the wrath of God.” The imagery is powerful, isn’t it? and rather gruesome. Most agree that the thing being symbolized here is the judgment of the wicked on the last day. This was the event the prophet Joel did prophesy about. This is the event of which Christ, the Apostles, and Prophets did constantly warn.
But some think that the first harvest – the one described in verses 14-16 – does also depict the judgment of the wicked on the last day. This would be the view of G.K. Beale, with whom I usually agree. His main argument is that Joel 3:9–16 is the Old Testament text standing behind Revelation 14:6-13 (with this I agree). He notices correctly that Joel, when he prophesied concerning the judgment to come, described it as a twofold harvest, saying, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full”. In Joel, the outpouring of the wrath of God is described as both a harvest of grain and the treading of grapes in a wine press. But then he argues that what is true of Joel 3 must also be true of Revelation 14. So, according to Beale both the harvest of grain reaped by the “one like a son of man” as described in verses 14-16 and the harvest of grapes reaped by the angel who “came out of the temple” describe the gathering in and judgment of the ungodly on the last day.
But others think that the grain harvest of Revelation 14:14-16 (we know that it is a grain harvest because the word translated “ripe” at the end of verse 15 is used to describe grain that dries as it ripens) symbolizes, not the judgment of the wicked, but the ingathering of the righteous on the last day unto salvation. This would be the view of Richard Bauckham and others, and I think it is the correct view.
It seems to me that this passage in Revelation 14:14-20 has as its background, not only the prophecy of Joel (though that is primarily), but also the teaching of Jesus who, when he spoke of the time of the end did refer to it as a great harvest wherein both the righteous and the unrighteous would be gathered in, but then distinguished one from another, the wicked to everlasting destruction, and the righteous to everlasting life.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 13 and look at verse 24. While you are turning there remember that many in Jesus’ day thought that when the Christ appeared he would bring in the kingdom of God in its full or consummate state. Jesus is here telling a parable to teach them that his kingdom will not immediately come in fulness, but will be inaugurated, and will continue for a time as incomplete, with both the righteous and unrighteous living side by side in the world.
“He put another parable before 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 weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’” (Matthew 13:24–30, ESV)
Look now at verse 36:
“Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36–43, ESV)
It seems to me that what we have in Revelation 14:14-20 is a kind hybrid, the teaching Joel 3 and Matthew 13 being brought together in to one place.
So what will happen on the last day, or the “end of the age”, as Christ calls it in the parable we have just read?
Christ Will Return To Gather His Elect Unto Glory
Among other things Christ will return to gather his elect unto glory. I believe this is the event symbolized in Revelation14:14-16.
Notice that John saw “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” (Revelation 14:14, ESV). This is a vision of Jesus the Christ.
In verse 15 we read, “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’” (Revelation 14:15, ESV).
Some have been troubled by the words, “and another angel” at the beginning of verses 15, thinking that the word “another” refers back to the “one like a son of man” in verse 14. By this some have concluded that the “one like a son of man” cannot be Jesus Christ, but must be an angel, for John does say, “and another angel” in verses 15. Do you follow?
Two things: First of all, it would not be entirely inappropriate to refer to the Christ as an “angel” for in the Old Testament the Son of God was sometimes called the Angel of the LORD when he did appear to men. This does not take away from his divinity but does highlight his role within the Godhead – he is the one that proceeds from the Father and reveals him. Secondly, a careful consideration of this text shows that the word “another” does not refer back to the “one like a son of man” in verse 14, but to the three angels that John saw in verses 6-12. So then, there are three angels in verses 6-12 who pronounce warnings concerning the final judgment, three more are mentioned here in verses 15-20 who are involved with carrying out the final judgment, and Christ is mentioned in the middle of the first and second groups of angels. Seven figures are mentioned then in verses 6-20, with Christ being the central figure.
Some have also been troubled by the fact that it is an angel that tells Christ that it is time to reap the harvest. Verse 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’”
But notice where the angel comes from. He “came out of the [heavenly] temple.” In other words, he came from God. And the word that he brought to the “one like a son of man” was not his own message, but God’s.
Do you remember Jesus’ teaching concerning the time of the end? His disciples wanted to know when the end would come and Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32, ESV). What do we see here in Revelation 14:15 except the Father revealing to the Son that the time for the harvest of the earth has come, and he reveals it via his heavenly messenger? The angels says,“Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” (Revelation 14:15, ESV)
And what does the “one like a son of man” do? Verse 16: “So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.” (Revelation 14:16, ESV)
Do you see that symbolized here in Revelation 14:16 is the event that Jesus spoke most directly about in his earthly ministry? When telling his disciples about his second coming he said, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (Mark 13:24–27, ESV)
This is also the event that the Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians about when he said, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, ESV)
What the Apostles, Prophets and Christ spoke about most directly the Apocalypse of John symbolizes with the image of one like a son of man swinging a sickle to reap his final harvest.
So what will happen on the last day when Christ returns? Christ will gather his elect unto glory.
Christ Will Return To Gather The Ungodly Unto Judgement
Secondly, see that on that the last day Christ will return to gather the ungodly unto judgment. This is the event symbolized in Revelation14:17-20.
Verse 17: “Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle” (Revelation 14:17, ESV). It seems that another harvest is going to be described besides the one already mentioned. This time it is not “one like a son of man”, but an angel who wields the sickle.
Verse 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’” (Revelation 14:18, ESV).
Remember that in the book of Revelation it from the heavenly alter that the judgments of God do flow. This angel came from there and he has authority over the fire. This angel then commanded the one with the sickle, saying, “put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”
Do not be confused. It is God and Christ who will judge the wicked on the last day. But your are seeing here in the book of Revelation that God’s ministering spirits will be involved. They were seen warning prior to that day, and not they are seen active in carrying out the judgments of God.
This corresponds to the clear teaching of Christ on the subject when he said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27, ESV).
The angle with the sickle then did what he was commanded to do. He “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” (Revelation 14:19, ESV).
Wine sometimes symbolizes joy in the scriptures. It also symbolizes judgment. Perhaps this has to do with its red color and its appearance as blood. Surely it has to do with how wine can cause men to stager, just as those who have come under judgment will be made to stager.
Remember how the third angel of 14:9 warned, saying, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:9–10, ESV). Now the sixth angel is seen carrying out that judgment upon those who have worshiped the beast. The judgment is described as grapes thrown “into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 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”, or 184 miles (Revelation 14:19–20, ESV).
The imagery is rather gruesome, is it not? Can you picture a river of blood flowing for 184 miles as deep as a horses head is high? Clearly it is the great and final judgment of God being symbolized here. The elect of God are safely home, protected inside the city of God, but the wicked are judged by God, and the judgment is very great.
What should we do in light of these truths?
First, we must believe what the word of God says concerning the time of the end. We must believe that Christ will indeed return to bring his people safely home and to judge the ungodly. Why should we believe it? Because God has revealed it through his prophets, by his Christ, and in his most holy word!
Secondly, this passage of scripture should send us running to Christ for shelter. Revelation 14:14-20 does not reveal why God will judge, nor does it reveal how to escape the wrath of God, but the rest of the scriptures do that.
Friends, we have sinned against God, and our sins are very great, and are deserving of God’s just condemnation. We do tend to make light of our sin, and we should not. Do you see the severity of God’s judgment? And do you understand that his judgments will be perfectly right and just? If God’s judgments are this severe, and if they are just, then what does that say about the severity of our sin? We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are good. No, we, by nature, are all bent out of shape. We have sinned against our Maker, failing to love him as we ought, and failing to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Indeed, we stand guilty before him and would be utterly hopeless were it not for the grace of God.
Thirdly, let us make our calling and election sure. We do not believe that it possible for someone to loose their salvation, but the scriptures do everywhere exhort the Christian to make their calling and election sure, to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and “strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by… disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11, ESV). It is not that we earn our salvation by keeping God’s law, but the one who is truly saved, who has been born again, having his heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit, will indeed keep God’s law. Christ himself did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, having been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and having been justified by grace alone and through faith alone, let is keep God’s commands.
Let us worship him alone.
Let us worship him as he has prescribed in his word.
Let us bring honor to his name, and not shame.
Let us honor the sabbath day and keep it holy.
Let us give everyone the honor that is due to them.
Let us refrain from ungodly anger, hatred, and murder.
Let is refrain from lust and adultery.
Let us protect that which belongs to others and never steal.
Let us always speak the truth.
Let us be content with what God have given to us, and refrain from covetousness.
The thought of judgment should indeed cause us to run to Christ, to cling to him in faith, and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling lest we come short of it.
Fourthly, let us pray for the salvation of those who do not yet know Christ and give the gospel to them as the Lord gives us opportunity.