The Tale of Two Sickles
Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia, used to reject the concept of God's wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war. People committed terrible atrocities against their neighbors and countrymen. The following reflections, from Volf's book Free of Charge, reveal his new understanding of the necessity of God's wrath:
My last resistance to the idea of God's wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.
Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators' basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them?
Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world's evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.
Harvesting growing up
When we lived in Greencastle, we had a fairly large garden
I remember snapping a lot of green beans, husking a lot of corn, and shelling a lot of peas
I only remember doing this one time, but we helped my Grandmother pick corn on her property
She had a special tool that I think was a twine knife (show picture)
It helped to cut the corn off the stock
I remember thinking it was pretty cool to have this special harvesting tool
I also remember my mother spending endless hours cutting corn off the cobb so she could freeze it
Judy will tell you that she doesn’t have to ask me twice about cutting corn off the cobb
I can’t explain why it brings me such joy to cut corn off the cobb, but it does
I do it the same way my mother used to do it (cutting towards my body)
We not only froze vegetables, we also canned fruit
When we lived in Shippensburg my brother, cousin, and I picked cherries one summer for the local orchard
We lived in a development outside of Shippensburg that was surrounded by orchards
We walked through the orchard or rode our bikes to the place where the cherry trees were
We got paid by the bucket, so we worked hard and fast
Adams County is known for its orchards
We have the apple blossom festival and the apple harvest festival
Most everyone works or has worked for one of fruit growers or fruit manufacturing plants at some time in their life
(If you have worked or are currently working for the fruit growing or packaging industry, please stand)
How many of you have a personal garden?
You understand what it takes to make a garden grow and then to harvest the produce from it
Harvesting isn’t the final step for most of us, because there is freezing and canning that come after that
We’ll see today in this passage (Rev. 14:14-20) that two separate harvests are being talked about, a grain harvest and a grape harvest. These two harvests are very different, but they both have God’s judgment in view. John wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – God’s judgment will be complete.
GOD (Revelation 14:14-20)
The Grain Harvest (vv. 14-16)
Son of man sitting on a cloud with a sickle (v. 14)
John continues to look at the eschatological scene unfolding
He sees a white cloud in front of him
The cloud is significant
The background for the significance of the cloud is found in Daniel’s vision
Daniel 7:13-14, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The Psalmist also highlights the significance of clouds as it pertains to the presence of God/Jesus
Psalm 104:3, He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.
Throughout Scripture we see God’s presence associated with clouds
His presence with the Israelites, as they wandered through the wilderness, was in the form of a cloud during the day
At Mount Sinai, God’s presence was indicated by a cloud that covered the top of the mountain
When the Tent of Meeting was established and later when the Tabernacle was built, the people knew that God was with them because a cloud covered both of those places of worship
When the cloud lifted, they knew it was time to move to the next location
We also see Christ’s return associated with clouds
Revelation 1:7, Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
Mark 13:26, “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Mark 14:61b-62, Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Acts 1:9-11, After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
The cloud is definitely representative of God’s presence, but the color of the cloud is also important
The color of the cloud is significant also (white)
This verse is the only time in Revelation that a cloud has a color associated with it
Osborne explains clearly the importance of the color white, “Throughout the Apocalypse, the color ‘white’ signifies purity (as in the ‘white robe’ of 6:11; 7:9, 13), wisdom (the ‘white hair’ of the ‘one like a son of man’ in 1:14), glory (the ‘white throne’ of 4:4), and victory (the ‘white horse’ on which Christ and the heavenly army come in 19:11, 14; the ‘white garments’ they wear in 19:14).” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 550]
So, we see that the color white represents purity, wisdom, glory, and victory
All of those attributes are true of the person seated on the white cloud
There is a person seated on the cloud that looks like a son of man
Most scholars agree that the one “like a son of man” is talking about Jesus
This was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout the Bible
We saw Him use this title with the high priest in Mark 14:62
John identifies two items that obviously caught his attention as he saw Jesus sitting on this white cloud
This is the victor’s crown (stephanos) and not the royal crown (diadema)
Jesus will eventually wear multiple royal crowns as we’ll see in Rev. 19:12
This is again reflecting the fact that Jesus won the victory when he died on the cross to take our punishment for sin
He has the right to judge as the sovereign Lord
Jesus is holding a sharp sickle in His hand
This simply means He’s ready to judge
As John is watching the scene unfold, he sees another angel come from the temple
Angel’s announcement (v. 15)
The temple is the heavenly temple where God’s presence is
He has a message for Jesus as Jesus sits on the white cloud
Some commentators see this angel as giving a command to the one sitting on the white cloud, and say that it could not represent Jesus, because Jesus would never be commanded to do anything by an angel
Yet, this angel has come from the presence of God and is acting as the messenger of God – he is simply relaying a command from God to Jesus
Jesus taught about remaining watchful, because no one knows the day or hour when God will send Jesus back to earth for the second time
Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Jesus then goes on to explain what it will be like when He is told come back to earth a second time
John is seeing the future when God tells Jesus, through an angel, that it’s time to go
The angel gives Jesus the message from God
“Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
This is the hope of every follower of Jesus Christ
In the same way that the Israelites longed for the Messiah to come, we as followers of Jesus Christ, long for His second coming
We are hopeful that it will happen in our generation, just like the Israelites hoped that the Messiah would come in their generation
While we still don’t know the day or the hour we wait with patient anticipation
PRINCIPLE – God’s timing is perfect!
Whether we are still alive, when Jesus returns, or have passed away, we can know with confidence that God’s timing is perfect
He is all-knowing, so He knows when the best time for Jesus to return will be
His timing was perfect in sending Jesus the first time
Galatians 4:4, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Romans 5:6, 8, You see, at just the right time, when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We see Jesus’ obedience to God’s command in verse 16
Harvesting of grain (v. 16)
Is this harvest God’s judgment of the ungodly or the righteous?
Scholars are split on this matter
Of the nine commentators used in preparation for this message it is almost split down the middle
Half of them believe it is God’s judgment on the ungodly
They reference the fact that we see the judgment of the ungodly right before and right after this section of Scripture
Therefore, these two harvest scenes represent the judgement of the ungodly
There is also a line of thinking that throughout Scripture the same scene is repeated as a way of drawing attention to the scene as a whole (the first time the scene is presented is more general and the second time it is presented in more detail)
They use Joel 3:12-13 as evidence for this belief
Joel 3:12-13, “Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness!”
The other half believe it is God’s judgment on the righteous
We will all stand before God in judgment
Here we see Jesus coming to gather/harvest His followers
In the New Testament we see the imagery of harvesting representing people becoming a part of God’s kingdom (Matt. 9:37-38; Mark 4:29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38) [Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 278]
“Bauckham (1993b: 291-96) states that the harvest imagery likely goes back to 14:4 and picks up the idea of the 144,000 as ‘firstfruits’ of the great harvest to come.” [Osborne, 552]
It’s interesting to note that this harvesting scene does not have any kind of separating of the ungodly from the righteous by way of threshing, winnowing, or throwing branches into a fire [Osborne, 552]
We’ll see in the grape harvest scene that there is a final destruction of those who are harvested
I’ve found that when the commentaries don’t agree we have to be cautious
It is perhaps something God doesn’t intend for us to fully understand this side of heaven
I lean towards the interpretation that this first harvest is the harvest of believers
But here’s the principle that I believe we can all embrace and what God really wants for us to understand
PRINCIPLE – God will judge the people of the earth.
This will include both believers and unbelievers
Read Matthew 13:24-30
Read Matthew 13:36-43
Both are harvested, the grain (believers) are stored up in the Lord’s barn and the weeds (unbelievers) are burned up in the fiery furnace of hell
The harvesting of the grain is complete when Jesus swings His sickle over the earth
God’s judgment will be complete
John continues to watch as some other angels appear
The Grape Harvest (vv. 17-20)
Easley brings out a fascinating contrast between literal grain and grape harvests that may be helpful with the two harvests of people on the earth
“In the world of the first century, the grape harvest, otherwise called the ‘vintage,’ was as distinct from the grain harvest as, say, Easter is from Thanksgiving. They occurred at two different times of year. The grain harvest was done by mid-June. Grapes were gathered in September and October.” [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 255]
John’s vision of these two harvest scenes seems to represent two separate groups being judged as we have identified already
The reference to two separate times of year in the literal harvest cycle probably does not play a part in the two harvest scenes here – perhaps the two harvest scenes happen one after the other (we are not given enough information in this passage to make a definitive decision)
Angel with a sickle (v. 17)
In John’s vision, another angel comes out of the temple in heaven with a sharp sickle in his hands
This angel will come directly from the presence of God
His role will be to harvest the grapes as God’s representative with God’s authority
Another angel’s announcement (v. 18)
Still another angel arrives on the scene, but this angel is one that we have probably seen before
This angel comes from the altar where he is in charge of the fire
Revelation 8:3-5, Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
It’s interesting to see how all of Revelation is fitting together
There is certainly an element of God’s answer to the question of the saints under the altar as found in Revelation 6:10, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
So the angel, who is offering up the prayers of the saints under the altar together with incense, is now on the scene with a command for the angel who came out of the temple with a sickle
His command, in a loud voice, is for the angel with the sickle to harvest the grapes because they are ripe – it’s time!
This takes us back to the same principle shared in the first harvest scene – God’s timing is perfect
Harvesting of grapes (v. 19)
The angel with the sickle is obedient to God’s command as announced by the angel in charge of the fire at the altar
He swings his sickle on the earth and gathers its grapes
He deposits them in the great winepress of God’s wrath
This is all a part of God requiring the inhabitants of the earth to drink the wine of His fury as we saw in Revelation 14:10
A winepress in the 1st Century consisted of two vats/troughs, an upper and lower, made of stone or wood
The upper vat/trough is where the harvested grapes were placed
The lower vat/trough is where the juice was collected by way of a duct that connected the two vats/troughs
There were people who trampled the grapes under their feet in the upper vat/trough
Crushing the grapes was a vital part of extracting the juice
“Treading grapes in a winepress was a familiar figure of divine wrath and judgment.” [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 247]
God is the One who does this in Isaiah, Lamentations, and Joel (Old Testament)
Isaiah 63:3-4, “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood splattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come.
Lamentations 1:15, “The Lord has rejected all the warriors in my midst; he has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In his winepress the Lord has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah.
Joel 3:13, Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness!”
Jesus is pictured as the One who will administer divine wrath in Revelation 19:15, Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
The imagery of crushing unbelievers in God’s winepress helps us to understand the seriousness of His wrath, not tempered with His usual grace and mercy
Fate of grapes that are harvested (v. 20)
Two important images are related here as it pertains to unbelievers and their fate during the eschaton (end of times)
God’s winepress is outside the city
This only makes sense, because the vineyards were outside the city, so they built the winepresses close to the vineyards
In this judgment scene there is more to it than just geographical convenience
“To be executed ‘outside the gate’ is to be cut off from the covenant people. In Heb. 13:12 Jesus sacrificed himself by bearing our sins ‘outside the gate,’ while here the nations are judged ‘outside’ the holy city. This emphasis occurs also in Rev. 22:14-15, where the faithful ‘go through the gates in the city’ while sinners must remain ‘outside.’ Also, in 3:12 the ‘overcomers’ will ‘never go outside’ the ‘temple of God’ again, anticipating the final holy city of 21:9-27. Thus, the judgment of unbelievers ‘outside the city’ emphasizes their absolute rejection by God and is in contrast with the blessed state of the faithful.” [Osborne, 555]
In our humanness we struggle to comprehend God’s wrath apart from His grace and mercy, and yet we have to understand that this is exactly how the inhabitants of the earth have treated God from generation to generation – they have rejected Him and pushed Him outside of the “city of their lives”
So they are only experiencing the results of what they have done all their lives – this is what they have chosen
What comes out of the winepress is not grape juice, but rather blood
The final judgment of God for unbelievers is both a physical and spiritual death
Here we see the gruesome result of millions of people who have chosen to reject God’s loving gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ
What is pictured here is blood flowing or splattering as high as about four feet (the height of a horse’s bridle)
It is flowing for 184 miles (1,600 stadia, the approximate length of Palestine from the Syrian border in the north to the Egyptian border in the south)
This is not a literal river of blood that is four feet deep and 184 miles long, but rather hyperbole
It is communicating the death of a massive number of people at the same time
It is also foreshadowing the battle of Armageddon
It is another reminder of the principle that God will judge the people of the earth
God’s judgment will be complete
The two harvest scenes both mention the earth
The harvest of the earth is ripe (Rev. 14:15)
Grapes from the earth’s vine (Rev. 14:18)
Take a moment and underline the word “earth” in this section of scripture (we see it used 5 times in the NIV)
God’s judgment of believers and unbelievers will not miss anyone – everyone will be included in one of these two harvests
Are you part of the grain harvest?
Those who will be a part of the grain harvest are the ones who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
Most of us would put ourselves in this category, which is great!
I want to encourage you to not make this just an individual thing
Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:18-20 to make it an everybody thing (Pursue, Grow, and Multiply Disciples)
My Next Step Today Is To: Identify individuals who need to hear the Gospel and then pray for an opportunity to share my testimony with them.
They may be family members, fellow students, friends, neighbors, or coworkers
Are you part of the grape harvest?
You will be part of the grape harvest if you die in a state of rebellion against God or Jesus returns while you are in rebellion against God
It means that you never desired to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but rather decided to live life by your own standards
You never admitted to God that you are sinner, that you believed that Jesus died on the cross to take your punishment for sin, and that you wanted to be a part of God’s family
You can change from being part of the grape harvest to the grain harvest
Admit that you are a sinner (we all are, some have admitted it to God and others haven’t)
Believe that Jesus came to earth the first time to take your punishment for sin (He did this by willingly sacrificing Himself on the cross, being buried, and coming alive again in three days)
Choose to be a child of God
John 1:12-13, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
It’s a choice only you can make individually
My Next Step Today Is To: Receive Jesus into my life and believe in His name, so I can be a child of God.
“The faithful Baptist preacher of London, Charles Spurgeon, understood the gravity of what it means to stand either with Jesus or against Jesus. He understood, as many do not, what was at stake. Bringing his own sermon from this chapter to a conclusion, he pled with conviction and passion in words I simply cannot ignore. I urge you to heed his warning and his counsel lest you are thrown into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
I beseech you, do not risk that doom for yourselves. Escape for your lives; look not behind you but fly to the only refuge which God has provided. Whoever will entrust his soul to Jesus Christ shall be eternally saved. Look unto him who wore the thorn-crown, and repose your soul’s entire confidence in Him, and then, in that last great day, you shall see Him seated on the white cloud, wearing the golden crown, and you shall be gathered. . . . But if you reject Him, do not think it wrong that you should be cast with the grapes into the winepress of the wrath of God, and be trodden with the rest of ‘the clusters of the vine of the earth.’ I beg you to take Christ as your Saviour, this very hour lest this night you should die unsaved. Lay hold of Jesus, lest you never hear another gospel invitation or warning. If I have seemed to speak terribly, God knoweth that I have done it out of love to your souls; and, believe me, that I do not speak as strongly as the truth might well permit me to do, for there is something far more terrible about the doom of the lost than language can ever express or thought conceive. God save all of you from ever suffering that doom, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen. (“Harvest”).” [Akin, 249]