Revelation 14:14-20 The Two Great Harvests
We are nearing the end of summer. The fall is the time of the harvest. Farmers who have spent the entire summer preparing their crops get to harvest their crops for their benefit. Here in Revelation 14, we are nearing the “fall season” of the book. The seal, thunder, and trumpet judgments have all occurred. God has been working in the lives of people to protect the saints and to prepare the world for His final judgment. Here, we see the results of that cultivation: the two great harvests.
“Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” (Revelation 14:14, HCSB)
Clouds are significant throughout Scripture because they represent the visible presence of God.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CLOUDS1
- When the law was first given, a cloud covered the mountain (Exodus 19:16).
When the law was given a second time, a cloud again appeared (Exodus 34:5).
Upon its completion, a cloud covered the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34).
Whenever the Israelites were to break camp on their journey to the Promised Land, a cloud led the way (Numbers 9:17).
When the temple was dedicated, a cloud filled the holy of holies (1 Kings 8:10).
When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5)
When Jesus ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:9)
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HARVESTS
1. There are two harvests, one of grain and one of grapes.
Notice that the first harvest is the harvest of the earth. The second harvest is the harvest of the grapes of the earth.
2. They could be two harvests, one of evangelism, and one of judgment.
Whereas both harvests are likely parallel images for judgment in Joel, some commentators suggest that Revelation uses only the second image for judgment (14:17–20). The grain harvest, by contrast, includes the evangelism and gathering of God’s people, as the grain harvest is used in many early Christian texts (Mark 4:20, 29). Note too that the martyrs in 14:4 were the “firstfruits” from a godly grain harvest, that is, a sacrifice that foreshadowed the rest of the harvest like them (Lev. 23:9–14).23
3. They are performed by two different people: the Son of Man and the Grim Reaper Angel
Revelation 14, speaks of “two harvests”—the first when the Son of Man comes in the clouds with a sickle to reap the harvest of his saints (14:14–16); the second when the grim reaper angel reaps the grapes of God’s wrath in judgment (14:17–20).4
THE HARVEST OF REDEMPTION (Revelation 14:15-16)
“Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.”” (Revelation 14:15, HCSB)
In a highly symbolic scene, Jesus reaps a harvest of grain, which refers to the salvation of those who confess Christ (14:14–16). This is a familiar image from the Gospels, where the evangelization of the world is compared to a harvest (Matt. 9:36–38; Luke 10:2; cf. Mark 4:29).5
REASONS WHY THIS IS THE HARVEST OF THE RIGHTEOUS
1. The action is taken by Jesus rather than an angel
2. The image of a grain harvest is used elsewhere in a positive light (e.g., Matthew 9:37–38; John 4:34–38)
3. The description of the 144,000 as “firstfruits” in 14:4 points to a greater harvest to come
4. In the second vision, the grapes are harvested and then trampled, while in the first vision the grain is only harvested, not winnowed or threshed or burned.6
“So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.” (Revelation 14:16, HCSB)
THE HARVEST OF JUDGMENT (Revelation 14:17-20)
“Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven.” (Revelation 14:17, HCSB)
THREE DIFFERENT VINES IN SCRIPTURE
The grape harvest is often a picture of judgment (see Joel 3:13ff, which anticipates the Day of the Lord). In actuality, Scripture portrays three different “vines.”
1. Israel was God’s vine, planted in the land to bear fruit for God’s glory; but the nation failed God and had to be cut down (Psalm 80:8–16; Isaiah 5:1–7; see also Matthew 21:33–46).
2. Today, Christ is the Vine and believers are branches in Him (John 15).
3. The world system is also a vine, “the vine of the earth” in contrast to Christ, the heavenly Vine; and it is ripening for judgment. The wicked system—Babylon—that intoxicates people and controls them, will one day be cut down and destroyed in “the winepress of the wrath of God.”7
“Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.”” (Revelation 14:18, HCSB)
“So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” (Revelation 14:19, HCSB)
“Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles.” (Revelation 14:20, HCSB)
In biblical times, after the grapes were harvested they were trampled in a winepress, a small pit covered with plaster. The grape juice would run through a channel at one end of the pit leading to a storage vessel. Figuratively, the winepress represents God’s judgment on his enemies (e.g., Isaiah 63:3; Joel 3:13; Lamentations 1:15). In Revelation 19:15 it is Jesus himself who “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” This trampling occurs “outside of the city,” a sign of separation from the covenant people (e.g., Revelation 22:14–15; Hebrews 13:12), and the graphic description of the amount of bloodshed only adds to the horror of the image.8
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NUMBER 1600 STADIA
1. The distance of “1,600 stadia” likely represents the universal scope of God’s judgment (i.e., 42 × 102 with 4 representing the earth and 10 symbolizing completeness).9 The length of a stadion was about six hundred feet, but most translations keep the word “stadia” because to convert these measurements to feet or miles would lose the symbolism of the numbers (i.e., 42 × 102).
2. Geographically, it is the approximate length of Israel. In the Itinerarium of Antonius, Palestine was said to be 1664 stadia from Tyre to El-Arish (on the borders of Egypt).
2. Symbolically, it squares the numbers four and multiplies it by the square of ten.
Symbolically it squares the number four (the number of the earth: “four corners of the earth,” 20:8; “four winds of the earth,” 7:1) and multiplies it by the square of ten (the number of completeness; cf. 5:11; 20:6). 1,600 has also been taken as representing the whole earth or as the square of forty, the traditional number for punishment (Numbers 14:33; Deuteronomy 25:3).
WHOSE BLOOD COMES FROM THE GRAPES
But let’s look a little closer at those grapes. Are they God’s enemies or His saints? It’s not entirely clear, but there is some good evidence that the blood from the grapes refers to the blood of the saints, which contributes to God’s wrath over those who killed them. In fact, whenever the image of blood occurs in Revelation, it always refers to the blood of Jesus, His followers, or innocent people. God never causes His enemies to bleed in Revelation—literally or symbolically. Revelation speaks about blood throughout the book.
1. Blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 16:6; 19:13)
2. Blood of the saints (6:10; 14:20; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24
3. Blood of the innocent (18:24).
4. Seas and rivers also turn to blood throughout Revelation (6:12; 8:7, 8; 11:6; 16:3, 4).
Nowhere does “blood” in Revelation refer to the blood of Jesus’s slaughtered enemies.
So the grapes that are harvested are the martyrs of Jesus. But why are they thrown “into the great winepress of the wrath of God”? Because their blood turns into God’s wrath poured out on their killers. The martyrs don’t die because of God’s wrath. Rather, their blood (the wine) becomes the very wrath Babylon will drink. God is mixing the wine of His wrath (Revelation 14:10), which will be poured out on the Babylons that oppose Him (16:19).
Now, whether the blood is symbolic of judgment or symbolic of martyrdom leading to judgment doesn’t make a huge difference for my main point. Nowhere are God’s people allowed to act violently in Revelation. In any case, this martyrdom-leading-to-wrath view better fits with what John says over the next few chapters,10 where the blood of the saints becomes the mixed wine of God’s wrath toward His enemies:
“Because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, You also gave them blood to drink; they deserve it!” (Revelation 16:6, HCSB)
“…Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger.” (Revelation 16:19, HCSB)
“Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.” (Revelation 17:6, HCSB)
“Pay her back the way she also paid, and double it according to her works. In the cup in which she mixed, mix a double portion for her.” (Revelation 18:6, HCSB)
“and the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on earth, was found in you.” (Revelation 18:24, HCSB)
“because His judgments are true and righteous, because He has judged the notorious prostitute who corrupted the earth with her sexual immorality; and He has avenged the blood of His slaves that was on her hands.” (Revelation 19:2, HCSB)
All of these passages seem to draw out the meaning of the grape harvest in Revelation 14:17–20. God has stored up the blood of the martyrs in a massive winepress and is thrusting it down the throat of Babylon in seven bowls (Revelation 15:7; 16:1, 19). The persecution of the saints may lead to the salvation of the persecutors.11 Otherwise, it contributes to their righteous judgment. In both cases, there is meaning—rich, theological meaning—in the persecution of saints.
The twentieth century witnessed more Christian martyrs than the previous nineteen centuries combined. And not a single one of them died arbitrarily. Every pool of blood contributed either to the salvation of their enemies or to their wrath. Not a single drop was meaningless.12
Craig Keener, author of the NIV Application Commentary on Revelation reveals how important this approach was to him:
Many today avoid trying to “scare” people into the kingdom. In a culture in revolt against authority and skeptical of threats, emphasizing God’s loving invitation may be a more strategic approach. But John had no such scruples against “scaring” people, and as long as we speak the truth and are able to reason with people (Acts 19:9; 24:25), there remain occasions when this approach is appropriate. A young atheist chose to consider the claims of Christ immediately rather than deferring the decision because the doctrine of hell made the stakes too high to ignore. Twenty-four years later that former atheist remains a committed Christian—and is writing this commentary.13
1 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1747.
2 Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, 290–94; cf. Caird, Commentary on Revelation, 193. For the view that both harvests refer to judgment, see Aune, Revelation, 2:801–3; Beale, Revelation, 775–79.
3 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 376.
4 Simon Ponsonby, And the Lamb Wins: Why the End of the World Is Really Good News (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2010).
5 Preston Sprinkle, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013).
6 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 203.
7 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 608.
8 Osborne, Revelation, 555.
9 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 204.
10 Those who agree with my reading include Caird, Revelation of St. John, 192–94; Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 133–135; and Peter J. Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012), 45–47. Those who identify the blood with Jesus’s enemies include G. K. Beale, NIGTC: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 782–83; Alan F. Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 543.
11 This is what the grain harvest seems to suggest. See Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 94–98.
12 Preston Sprinkle, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013).
13 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 382.