revelation 14 (3)… two harvests

Revelation 14 :4-20

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.

In Revelation the day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return in judgement and salvation is never far away. It is the central event in the final drama. Sometimes the day of the Lord (especially in the OT) has a broad time reference and seems to encompass events ranging from Christ’s first coming up to and beyond his second coming. In this sense it is in the OT a catch-all for the eschatological events. At other times it refers to the specific Second Coming of Christ in judgement and salvation. Here, although the language ‘day of the Lord’ is not mentioned, nevertheless it is that day in its narrow sense that is in view; the day it is depicted by the image of harvest, both the grain harvest (14-16) and grape harvest (17-20). The day for choosing is now past; the time for judging has come.

It is tempting to see the grain harvest, where no judgement is announced, as the ingathering in of believers. Jesus uses the image of harvest in this way. He speaks of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13) sending his angels to reap (Matt 33:12, 24:30). If believers, then John intends a contrast between the destiny of believers and of the ungodly.

However, it is unlikely the grain harvest metaphor refers to believers. Even when Jesus uses the image the dominant emphasis is on the destruction of the wicked (Matt 24:38-43). In the OT the grain harvest is a regular image of judgement (Isa 17:5; Jer 51:33; Mic 4:11,12; Hos 6:11). Indeed Joel seems to join both the grain harvest and grape harvest when he writes,

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. (Joel 3:13)

It seems likely John is building on the Joel text. The dual image of judgement chills. The focus in the first harvest is on the Son of Man. His majesty is stressed. He is Jesus who rules the churches in ch 1 (1:12-20). Now with a golden crown of victory in battle he sits on a cloud as the divine king and judge of the nations. The time has come to reap. Human sin has has fully ripened. It is time for the sickle of divine judgement.

In the grape harvest the stress seems to lie more on the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God’. An angel comes from the temple, with divine authority to execute judgement. Another angel from the altar perhaps reminding us of those martyred and calling out for justice and the prayers of the persecuted saints (6:9,10; 8:3,5). It seems to be the golden altar in view. From it an angel had previously thrown fire on the earth (8:3,5). Once again the harvest is ripe. God in Christ will crush and trample all opposition (19::15; Isa 63:1-6). The bloodbath imagery is visceral and shocking. Once again the cost of sin and opposing God is graphically expressed. Those who shed blood will have blood shed. The winepress is an image just as the 1600 stadia is a symbolic number (It is the square of 40 and also approximately the length of the Holy land from North to South).

The battle here takes place ‘outside the city’. The city is presumably Jerusalem. In the OT the destruction of the nations takes place outside Jerusalem. As Jesus experienced the day of wrath outside the city on behalf of his people (Hebs 13:12) so too will the unbelieving nations (Zech 12, 14; Joel 3:1-16; Dan 11:45. Cf Rev 20:9). It is hard to know just how literally to interpret this geographical reference. Although describing ultimate realities much of Revelation is couched in highly symbolic language. How are we to interpret the OT images upon which this city allusion is based? Is there a final confrontation between Israel and the nations centred at Jerusalem? Reading chapters such as Zech 12-14 it seems there may be. If the image refers to the heavenly city then the security of God’s people is in view. In fact, if Jerusalem is heavenly or earthly its security is certain as the Lord fights the nations who threaten her (Zech 14:3,4). However, the detail is to be understood the picture is plain the winepress is the final overthrow of the ungodly. Here it is angels that gather the ungodly as grapes to a winepress – the winepress of the wrath of God. Isaiah 63 speaks of God treading the winepress until his garments are splattered with blood (Isaiah 63:1-6). In Rev 19 it is Christ who comes to tread the winepress and strike down the nations. His robe is dipped in blood (19:11-21). All judgement has been given to the Son.

The victory of God in Christ is juxtaposed with the fate of the wicked. Yet again it is a call for God’s people to endure (14:12). The end is not yet but it is certain.

Blog at