“And 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.
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, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped.
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle.
And 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.”
And 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.”
If you will indulge me, I would like to write today as if teaching to twitchy, tireless and talkative at the wrong times, teenagers. Not that you’re that way, especially if you are one of those teenagers, you are the exception, but because it is how I do my best work. I don’t know why. Teaching teenagers is why I went to school but that was years ago. I have either dismissed or forgotten everything I learned. Perhaps it’s pure expirence, but again, it’s been months since I have taught tenacious teen’s. Again, if one is reading this–not you, you’re the exception. Nevertheless, the context is confusing at times and I need to dig deep down to my teenager teaching roots, to carefully coach us through context. We have waltzed, now we’ll read, paying close attention to detail:
“And 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. 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, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped.” Stop!
Pop quiz: without looking; who swung his sickle?
I don’t want a literal answer, I want a name. Hint: it’s our first pop quiz, I started out with an easy question that has a Sunday School answer–Plus, I said he had a name.
Jesus, very well done. But did you see it or did my hints give it away?
This quiz was important, remember it.
Continuing: “And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. And 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.” And the angel swung his sickle to the earth, and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth…” Stop!
Pop quiz; multiple choice: Who swung the sickle and harvested the clusters?
- The angel who has the power over fire
- The angel from the temple in heaven
- The strong angel
If your answer was 3, you are correct. If your answer was 1,or 2, the context confused you. If your answer was 4, you’re living in the past.
Moving on: “And 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.”
Pop quiz: Name a 20th century novel, the title of which reminds you of this scene.
And for extra credit: name a 19th century hymn that contains not only a reference to this text, but also a line that contains the words of the title of the 20th century book from the last question.
The book is, The Grapes of Wrath.
The Hymn is, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Pop quiz: where am I going with all of this?
The first thing I want us to see is that the harvest of the believers is done by Christ Jesus, himself, according to this text. Notice: “And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man…And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped.” I withheld the intermediate text for clarification. However, it is not only interesting, but important. The truth is, we have a problem.
Pop quiz: Does the Bible contradict itself?
Of course not, but consider: “He 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 men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. And 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!’ And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up 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.”’
By now you know the drill; pop quiz: which is the accurate account of the harvest?
- Jesus’s parable
- John’s apocalyptic vision
I find it interesting that in the Old Testament, the harvest was celebrated by the counting of the omer, then waving a sheaf to the Lord. But I digress–you want an answer. So do I. I would love to know where your brain is right now. Probably you’re pondering the parable–thinking that since it is a parable, probably it is not to be taken literally. However, you also are learning that I don’t believe that the imagery and visions in Revelation should be taken literally. This is the problem with writing as if I were teaching teenagers; I can’t hear your response. Oh well, moving on:
In the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 16, we read of the harvest festival.
What, you still want an answer? I can’t hear your answer, therefore you will have to wait for mine.
We read about the harvest in Deuteronomy 16, “You shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat…”
Pop quiz: which did the Israelites gather first, the wheat or the wine? That’s a rhetorical pop quiz. A quick question about consulting our OTT. We are better suited to see the metaphor up close and personal. Not many of us harvest grain these days.
Here’s Jesus’s answer when asked by his disciples, John most likely included, to explain the parable: “The sower is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
What’s the answer to the great question?
Notice the little word Jesus uses before he quotes Daniel, from the Old Testament. It shouldn’t be difficult, I drew attention to it. A four letter conjunction– what’s your function? Actually, it is also an adverb. It is used to compare and contrast between the two statements. First, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”… “THEN” …”THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father.” Context is King! Genre is the General!
Much like the parables of Jesus, the visions of Revelation are not necessarily to be taken literally. They use figurative language to paint the picture of God’s inner workings.
I know what some of you are thinking, “Russell P., since the angels do the reaping according to Jesus’s explanation in Matthew 13, doesn’t that indicate that the sharp sickle Jesus wields is imagery of the angels?” Actually, no. That is reading too much into the imagery. We don’t want to read anything into the imagery but rather, draw out the author’s aspirations to his audience. John was evoking our Old Testament tutor.
Pop quiz: what do clouds represent in the Old Testament? What is the significance of the crown on the head of the one like a son of man? Why is the cloud described as white? These are the types of questions one must ask as they consider the context. Notice, in Revelation 14:1, John saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. However, in 14:14, John sees one like a son of man sitting on a white cloud. Why does the Lamb stand and the son of man sit? We have discussed previously that the vision of the Lamb standing signifies the active purchase of the 144,000. In contrast, the vision of the King, like a son of man, sitting with a sharp sickle on a white cloud, is symbolic of righteous judgement by the King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s harvest time. The grapes of wrath are trodden outside the city.
Wine; it is a common denominator in the Bible. It’s used to bless, rejoice, memorialize and aid in the ailment of the stomach. But it is also used in excess and to demonstrate excess throughout the Bible, as it was previously in chapter 14. Figurative Babylon got the nations figuratively drunk with her real, yet figurative, immorality. The primary immorality was not obeying the Great Commandment to love the Lord with all one’s heart and soul and strength. They didn’t take his heavenly number but took the earthy number of the beast. They were adulterers to God. It should then come as no surprise to us that the wine in great excess, up to the horses bridle for two hundred miles, represents the blood of the dragon followers. It’s difficult to read, but the Bible tells us that they had time to repent and didn’t. Much like the Christ, the wine represents the blood and it is trodden outside the city. The reason is sublimely simple; Jesus was crucified outside the city. His blood is also represented by wine because he bore the wrath of God for true Israel. But those who are apostate Israel, who are not imparted righteousness from the blood of the Lamb, will have God’s wrath poured out and pressed upon them. The time is up.
God is love, and we continually see that throughout Revelation. Time and time again, God shakes the heavens and the earth to wake people up and warn them about the impending judgement. God is also just, and vengeance is his, he will repay. Either on the cross by the blood of the Lamb or in the great winepress of his wrath. There are only two types of people, those whose due wrath was nailed to the cross or those trodden as grapes of wrath.