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27 - The Final Reaping of the Earth

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The Final Reaping of the Earth (Revelation 14:14–20)

 

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. 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.

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. (14:14–20)

Intro:   Jesus’ first coming was one of humiliation, a time when He,

  • “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8).
  • Jesus came the first time as a servant; He will return as the sovereign King.
  • In His first coming, He came in humility; in His second coming, He will come in majesty and splendor.
  • The first time He came to earth, “the Son of Man [came] to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10); when He returns, it will be to “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1).
  • Jesus came the first time as the sower; He will come again as the reaper.

God’s final judgment on the earth is the theme of 14:6–11.

  • Verses 12 and 13 form a brief respite, presenting the encouraging, comforting truth of the perseverance of the saints.
  • After that brief rest to encourage the faithful, the theme of divine wrath resumes in verses 14–20. The judgment introduced in these verses will take place at the worst time in human history, the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21–22).
  • After years of enduring Antichrist’s oppressive rule, demonic assaults, and the terrifying, devastating, staccato judgments of God, people will wearily hope that things are about to get better.
  • It will seem as if life couldn’t possibly get any worse, but it will. Cataclysmic “Day of the Lord” judgment is about to fall on Satan, his demon hordes, Antichrist, and all the wicked, unrepentant people of the world.
  • That judgment is depicted in this passage as the final reaping of the earth. In an unprecedented holocaust, the full fury of the Lord Jesus Christ will be released in devastating judgment.
  • The theme of coming judgment is certainly not unique to Revelation. Even before the Messiah preached the good news of the gospel, His forerunner proclaimed the bad news of judgment.
  • In Matthew 3:7 John the Baptist said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
  • During His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly warned of the coming day of judgment (e.g., Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41–42; John 5:28–29).
  • Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.… But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 1:18; 2:5–6).
  • In 2 Thessalonians 1:6–9 the apostle added, “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
  • The writer of Hebrews warned, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26–27).
  • Peter also wrote of the coming judgment, warning that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.… by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7).

The Old Testament, too, speaks of God’s eschatological judgment on the world. In Isaiah it is written:

·         Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the Lord of hosts In the day of His burning anger. (Isa. 13:11–13)

·         The coming judgment is also referred to in Isaiah 24:21–23: So it will happen in that day, That the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, And the kings of the earth on earth. They will be gathered together Like prisoners in the dungeon, And will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, For the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, And His glory will be before His elders.

·         Two Old Testament passages present striking parallels with Revelation 14. Isaiah 63:1–6 records a fascinating soliloquy of the Messiah as He comes to execute the bloody final judgment on the unbelieving world: “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.”

·         This passage, like Revelation 14:19–20, uses the metaphor of trampling grapes in a winepress to depict the devastation of God’s final judgment. The prophet Joel recorded the devastation caused in Israel by drought, fire, and a massive invasion of locusts (Joel 1:1–2:11). Then the prophet used those temporal judgments to warn of the even more devastating judgment of the Day of the Lord (2:18–3:21). In Joel 3:12–13 that judgment is described using the same imagery found in Revelation 14: Let the nations be aroused 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. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Joel, like Isaiah, depicted God’s future judgment of the wicked, in the imagery of a winepress and of a harvest.

·         The Lord Jesus Christ also used the harvest analogy for judgment. In the parable of the tares He said, “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’ ” (Matt. 13:30).

·         Asked by His disciples to explain that parable Jesus said, “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So 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 throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:39–42)

·         So Joel, Isaiah, and the Lord Jesus Christ all spoke of a coming harvest of divine wrath when the Messiah will execute final judgment. That final outpouring of the judgmental fury of the Lamb is the theme of this chapter’s text.

·         This passage pictures the final harvest of divine wrath in two agricultural motifs:

o        the grain harvest (vv. 14–16)

o        and the grape harvest (vv. 17–20), raising the question as to why John recorded two visions of the same event.

·         There are many depictions of this event by the prophets, including those mentioned above, so it is not unusual for John to record two visions of it.

·         But there is also a specific situation at this point in the book of Revelation that suggests a purpose behind the repetition. As the Tribulation nears its climax, two main aspects of God’s eschatological wrath remain to be poured out on the sinful world.

·         The first aspect involves the seven bowl judgments (16:1–21), a rapid-fire sequence of frightening and deadly worldwide judgments that will destroy the final Babylon—the Antichrist’s empire.

·         The second aspect is the Battle of Armageddon, at which point Jesus Christ returns to judge and destroy His enemies (19:11–21).

  1. The Grain Harvest

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. 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. (14:14–16)

    1. The grain harvest symbolizes the seven bowl judgments, the grape harvest the judgment of Armageddon.
    2. Both harvests involve a sickle and reaping, and both can be described by the same three points: the reaper, the ripeness, and the reaping.
  1. the reaper 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. (14:14)

1.        The familiar phrase I looked, and behold often introduces a new and important subject in Revelation (cf. 4:1; 6:2, 5, 8; 7:9; 14:1). What caught John’s attention was a white cloud, an image drawn from Daniel 7:13–14: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”

2.        John saw sitting on the cloud one like a son of man—the Lord Jesus Christ, coming to establish His kingdom in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.

a.        The brilliant, white cloud symbolizes His glory and majesty (cf. 1:7; Matt. 17:5; 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9).

b.       He is ready to take the dominion of which Daniel prophesied; the reaper is sitting as He waits for the proper time to stand and begin the reaping. That reaping (the seven bowl judgments) will be followed by Christ’s return to establish His kingdom.

3.        The description of Christ as one like a son of man also derives from Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 7:13). It was the Lord’s favorite title for Himself during His incarnation (e.g., Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 24:27, 30; Mark 2:10, 28; 8:31; 9:9; Luke 6:22; 7:34; 9:22; 12:8; John 5:27; 6:27, 62; 8:28), when He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and [was] made in the likeness of men … [and was] found in appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:7–8).

a.        Why the text does not use the definite article and read the son of man is not clear.

b.       Yet the phrase also appears without a definite article in its only other appearance in Revelation (1:13).

c.        Perhaps the article was omitted to strengthen the allusion to Daniel 7:13. In any case, there is no doubt that the one like a son of man is the Lord Jesus Christ.

d.       This is the last time Scripture refers to Him by that title, and it presents a marked contrast with the first time the New Testament calls Him the son of man. Then He had nothing, not even a place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20); now He is about to take possession of the entire earth.

4.       The reaper is further described as having a golden crown on His head. This crown is not the diadēma worn by a king (cf. 19:12), but the stephanos worn by victors in war or athletic events; it is the crown of triumph (cf. 2:10; 1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4).

a.        It pictures the Son of Man not in His identity as the sovereign ruler, but as the triumphant conqueror victorious over all His enemies (cf. Matt. 24:30).

b.       The reaper also had a sharp sickle in His hand. A sickle was a long, curved, razor-sharp iron blade attached to a long, broomsticklike wooden handle.

c.        Sickles were used to harvest grain; as they were held with both hands spread apart and swept back and forth, their sharp blades would cut off the grain stalks at ground level.

d.       The picture is of the Lord Jesus Christ mowing down His enemies like a harvester cutting grain.

3.        the ripeness

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.” (14:15)

a.        Another angel, the fourth one mentioned in this chapter (cf. vv. 6, 8, 9), appears on the scene.

b.       The first three angels proclaimed that judgment was coming; the fourth brings the command to execute it.

c.        This angel came out of the heavenly (cf. v. 17) temple, from before the throne of God. In a loud voice conveying urgency, power, and the authority delegated to him from God, the angel cried out 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.”

d.       He delivers the message from God the Father to the Son of Man that it is time for Him to move in judgment. God’s anger has reached its limit, and His wrath is poured out. The time for grace is over, and there will be no more delaying the harvest of judgment.

e.       The Son can now exercise the right to judge that the Father has delegated to Him (John 5:22, 27; Acts 10:42; 17:31) because the earth is ripe for judgment.

f.         In fact, the verb translated is ripe actually means “dried up,” “withered,” “overripe,” or “rotten.” The grain (the earth) pictured here has passed the point of any usefulness and is fit only to be “gathered up and burned with fire” (Matt. 13:40).

4.       the reaping

Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. (14:16)

  1. Here is one of the most tragic and sobering statements in all of Scripture. Simply, and without fanfare, it records the executing of divine judgment.
  2. The frightening details of that judgment are unfolded in chapter 16:
    1. loathsome and malignant sores on the worshipers of Antichrist (v. 2),
    2. the death of all life in the world’s oceans (v. 3),
    3. the turning of the world’s rivers and springs of water into blood (v. 4),
    4. the intensifying of the sun’s heat until it scorches people (v. 8),
    5. painful darkness over all of Antichrist’s kingdom (v. 10),
    6. the drying up of the Euphrates River in preparation for a massive invasion by the kings of the east (v. 12),
    7. and the most powerful and destructive earthquake in history (v. 18).
    8. Those seven rapid-fire bowl judgments mark the first phase of the final reaping of the earth.

5.        The Grape Harvest

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. (14:17–20)

  1. The vision of the grain harvest is followed by the vision of the grape harvest, which does not speak of the bowl judgments but of the judgment that takes place at the battle of Armageddon.
  2. The vintage judgment is more dramatic because of the imagery of the winepress. Like the vision of the grain harvest, the grape harvest can be described in three points: the reaper, the ripeness, and the reaping.

6.       the reaper

And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. (14:17)

a.        The reaper in this vision is not the Son of Man, as in the grain harvest, but an angel, the fifth one mentioned in chapter 14.

b.       Like the fourth angel (v. 15), he came out of the temple which is in heaven. Like Christ in the previous vision, he also had a sharp sickle.

c.        Angels have played a prominent role in Revelation up to this point, summoning the four horsemen, sounding the seven trumpets, and defeating Satan and his demon hosts. Angels will also pour out the seven bowl judgments in chapter 16, announce the Battle of Armageddon (19:17), and bind Satan (20:1–3). That an angel is pictured in this vision as the reaper, then, is not surprising. The Son of Man will be assisted by holy angels in His final judgment (cf. Matt. 13:39, 49; 2 Thess. 1:7).

7.        the ripeness

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.” (14:18)

  1. As John watched, another angel appeared, the sixth one in the vision. He is given the interesting designation of the one who has power over fire. That title is closely connected with the fact that he came out from the altar.
  2. This heavenly altar has already been mentioned in 6:9–11: When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
  3. It most likely is emblematic of the Old Testament brass incense altar (Ex. 40:5), where twice daily priests burned incense to be offered in the Holy Place as a picture of the people’s prayers, since the martyrs underneath it are viewed praying and prayer is associated with incense (5:8; Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:10). Those martyred saints are praying for God to take vengeance on their tormenters and send His wrath.
  4. This altar is also described in 8:3–5: Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
  5. Every morning and evening the Old Testament priests would take hot coals from the brazen altar (upon which sacrifices were offered) and bring them to the incense altar.
    1. There they would ignite the incense (Ex. 30:7–8; 2 Chron. 29:11),
    2. which would rise toward heaven, symbolizing the prayers of God’s people (5:8).
    3. At that same time, the people outside would be praying (Luke 1:10).
  6. That the angel had power over the altar’s fire (the definite article is present in the Greek text, which literally reads “the fire”) indicates that he had been ministering at the heavenly counterpart to the earthly incense altar.
  7. Unlike the angel in verse 17, this angel does not come from the throne of God, but from the altar associated with the prayers of the saints. His appearance means that the time had come for those prayers to be answered. The time had come for God to take fire associated with intercession and use it for the destruction of His enemies and the enemies of His people.
  8. Leaving the altar, he called with a loud, urgent, commanding 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.”
  9. In answer to the saints’ prayers, the time for the reaping of judgment comes. Unrepentant sinners are depicted as clusters of grapes, to be cut off by the reaper’s sharp sickle from the vine of the earth; that is, from earthly existence.
  10. The word ripe is not the same Greek word used in verse 15. This word refers to something fully ripe and in its prime. It pictures earth’s wicked, unregenerate people as bursting with the juice of wickedness and ready for the harvest of righteousness.

8.       the reaping

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. (14:19–20)

a.        What resulted when the angel swung his sickle to the earth was catastrophic. All the enemies of God who survive the seven bowl judgments will be gathered like grape clusters from the vine of the earth and flung into the great wine press of the wrath of God.

b.       A wine press consisted of two stone basins connected by a trough. Grapes would be trampled in the upper basin, and the juice would collect in the lower one. The splattering of the juice as the grapes are stomped vividly pictures the splattered blood of those who will be destroyed (cf. Isa. 63:3; Lam. 1:15; Joel 3:13).

c.        The wine press will be trodden outside the city, as the Lord protects Jerusalem from the carnage of the Battle of Armageddon (cf. 11:2; Dan. 11:45; Zech. 14:1–4).

d.       That battle will take place in the north of Israel on the Plain of Esdraelon near Mount Megiddo (about sixty miles north of Jerusalem). It will rage the entire length of Israel as far south as Bozrah in Edom (cf. Isa. 63:1). Jerusalem will be spared to become the capital of Christ’s kingdom.

e.       The staggering, horrifying bloodbath of the Battle of Armageddon will be so widespread that blood will come out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

f.         There will be millions of people engaged in the Battle of Armageddon, as all the nations gather together to fight against the Lord Jesus Christ. Still, it is difficult to imagine that they could produce a flow of blood up to the horses’ bridles (about four feet deep) for a distance of two hundred miles (lit. “1,600 stadia”).

g.       A better interpretation, whether there are actual horses involved or not, sees this as hyperbole to suggest the slaughter in which blood will splatter into the air profusely along the whole length of the battle. When the slaughter reaches its peak, blood could flow deeply in troughs and streambeds.

h.       Armageddon, as this passage indicates, will actually be a slaughter rather than a battle. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns, Antichrist, the false prophet, and all their human and demonic forces will be immediately destroyed.

i.         Revelation 19:11–21 describes the scene in detail: And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

j.         Putting the scene in this chapter together with that of chapter 19, while the angel cuts the grapes, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who crushes out their lives.

k.        Unregenerate humanity faces a frightening future, as this incredible scene indicates. Those who refuse to repent, even after repeated warnings, will learn firsthand the sobering truth that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

l.         They would do well to heed the psalmist’s admonition: Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Ps. 2:12)


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