Lesson: IV.A.6 - Reaping the Earth’s Harvest, and the Grapes of Wrath - Section 2 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
Next, John describes the rapidity of the harvest. The one who is sitting on a cloud swings his sickle and after a few swift strokes of the sickle it is all over; the earth has been harvested. “And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.” Because there is no mention of wrath, those who interpret the person on the cloud as Jesus hold that this reaping is the time when the followers of God are being brought to heaven. For those who hold that the one doing the reaping is an angel, this harvest is undefined. Once again, there is some debate about who was being harvested—God’s people, or the sinners. Some scholars have suggested that 14:14-16 pictures the harvesting of God’s people, while 14:17-18 pictures the harvest of sinners. Most likely, however, as Jesus’ parable seems to indicate, 14:14-16 indicates the harvest of all people. This is a general picture of the final judgment, with the elect being taken to heaven and the unbelievers being sent to eternal punishment, as recorded in the following verses.
For two thousand years, the saints have watched satanic cults spring up and flourish. After the rapture of the church no doubt they will prosper even more, cultivated with a bountiful hand by Satan and his demon hosts. The believers during these days of consummation will find themselves beset on every hand with weird and wicked cults as false prophets abound, deceiving many. The Lord, however, makes no mistakes when harvest time comes, and swiftly separates the false from the true. The burning comes later. “The Son of man shall send forth his angels,” the Lord Jesus said, “. . . they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).
It is a sad and sorry scene, but it must come. The increasing corruption and rottenness in the “earth” is objectionable to a holy God. Man cannot continue as he is without the interruption of divine judgment. It is the “earth” that is reaped because this is where men dwell and where they have perpetuated their evil works. The “sickle” Christ holds in His hand is “sharp.” It will not fail to do its work thoroughly. The “earth” must be rid of its evil.
But while the Church awaits the Rapture, there is a good harvest before us even now. Jesus said, “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35). Our business as Christians is to witness of Christ and His gospel. The world must hear His message of salvation, and we are responsible to tell it to the utmost part of the earth. “They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest” (Psalm 126:6).
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
Verses 17-20 describe a grape harvest. “Another angel” appears with a “sharp sickle”; this one coming out of the “temple” in Heaven (14:17). Then “another angel,” this one “from the altar” (14:18) and having “power over fire,” is in command and he joins the angel which “came out of the Temple” and orders him to “gather the clusters of grapes” because they are “ripe” (14:18). When the angel gathers the grapes, he tosses them into God’s “wine press” (14:19). This is most likely a picture of judgment, since it is a “winepress” of “wrath” (14:19). We aren’t told who presses the grapes, but the huge amount of blood that pours from the “winepress” reveals a devastating judgment. This is probably the third picture of the same reality of coming judgment. First was the cup of unmixed wine to be poured out (14:10), the second was the grain harvest (14:15-16), and third was the grape harvest (14:17-20). This third stresses the violent nature of this final judgment. The Old Testament also pictures divine judgment as a grape harvest (see Isaiah 63:1-6; Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13). Revelation 19:15 describes the return of the victorious Christ: “He trod the winepress of the fierce wrath of Almighty God.”
The judgment described in verses 17-19 is very timely. Isaiah foresaw this and wrote, “Who is this who comes from Edom, from the city of Bozrah, with his clothing stained red? Who is this in royal robes, marching in his great strength? “It is I, the Lord, announcing your salvation! It is I, the Lord, who has the power to save!” Why are your clothes so red, as if you have been treading out grapes? “I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger, I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury, I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes” (Isaiah 63:1-3, NLT). Joel saw it also and said, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread the grapes, for the winepress is full. The storage vats are overflowing with the wickedness of these people.” Thousands upon thousands are waiting in the valley of decision. There the day of the Lord will soon arrive” (Joel 3:13-14).
The angel reapers are not identified in detail. The angel (see 8:5 for fire angel; 16:5 for water angel; 7:1 for wind angel) gave the order to harvest the grapes. The angel “which had power over fire” could refer to the angel who had authority over the fire on “the alter” (8:3-5). “The altar” is connected both with the souls of the martyrs (6:9) and the prayers of the saints (8:3), both of which played a part in bringing about this final drama of ultimate judgment.
In the Old Testament, Israel is symbolized by a vine, but a fruitless, disappointing vine. Moses, in his last song, which was written as a witness against Israel because of her failure, said “Their vine grows from the vine of Sodom, from the vineyards of Gomorrah. Their grapes are poison and their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, the deadly poison of cobras.” (Deuteronomy 32:32-33). The Psalmist and the Prophet Isaiah give a summary of the history of this vine in Psalm 88:8-16 and Isaiah 5:1-7. By the time of the end of the Great Tribulation, unbelieving Israel will have degenerated so far as to be allied with the world church headed by the great harlot and the Antichrist. Our Lord confirmed these Old Testament Scriptures, giving Israel’s failure as His reason for coming into the world as the True Vine and grafting in other branches (Matthew 21:33-43). The expression “vine of the earth” constitutes the entire religious system in the coming crisis, when the earth shall be reaped at the close of the Tribulation period.
Obeying the command (14:18), the angel with the sickle swung it across the earth and gathered its Grapes (picturing the unbelievers who will receive punishment) into the great winepress of God’s wrath. A “winepress” was a large vat or trough where Grapes would be collected and then smashed. The juice would flow out of a duct that led into a large holding vat. The unbelievers are collected and trampled in the winepress outside the city, possibly referring to Jerusalem (or Babylon). Since Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, this great scene of judgment is pictured there (see also Joel 3:12-14; Zechariah 14:1-4; John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12).