It has been said many times throughout the history of the Church that the mission of the Church is twofold: worship and witness. Worship is clear is it not? We’re to publicly and privately, corporately and personally be engaged in worshipping our God for who He is and what He has done. I think it begins with worship because when we give God glory for being God by praising His name, hearing His Word, and living life in line with it, we want others, people from all nations, to join in with this as well. So worship is the foundation of witness it seems. Or as John Piper has said so many times, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” Or later on he says, “Missions is momentary, worship is forever.” So we see clearly that the twofold mission of the Church is bound together and what God has joined together let no man separate.
But think about missions. How do we often encourage ourselves and others to join in and give ourselves and our resources to missionary efforts? We do it with the language of harvest. Why do we use this imagery? Because that’s how Jesus did it. Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” There is a harvest, it is abundant, there is a Lord of the harvest, and we’re to be praying/asking Him to raise up laborers and send them out. Amen! But I think what we often miss is that there is coming a day when this harvest will be over. When the Lord of the harvest will no longer send laborers out into it. When He Himself will come to gather all that remains into His heavenly storehouses. When is that day? What will happen on that day? How will God bring all this laboring to an end? Well, our text this evening, Revelation 14:14-20, answers those questions and more.
But for those of you who’ve been keeping up with this whole series through the book of Revelation, this won’t be surprising. Because we’ve seen this final harvest moment before already a few times. So remember, we’re taking the view that the book of Revelation isn’t a chronological narrative but a cycle of seven parallel sections, that tell the same story, with increasing intensity each time. That is filled with rich and symbolic imagery that isn’t defined in our imaginations but comes from the Old Testament. So first, chapters 1-3 show the exalted Christ among His churches. Second, chapters 4-7 describe the seven seals. Third, chapters 8-11 describe the seven trumpets. Fourth, chapters 12-14 describe the war between the dragon and God. Fifth, chapters 15-16 describe the seven bowls. Sixth, chapters 17-19 describe the fall of the great harlot and the beasts. Seventh, chapters 20-22 describe the new Jerusalem. For us this evening see then where our text, 14:14-20, falls in this grand scope of the whole book. It’s the conclusion of the fourth cycle. The events contained in it have been described in earlier cycles but here it turns up a few notches in its intensity.
That’s all by way of introduction, let’s get into the passage now. There are three portions of our text to call attention to…
The Harvester (v14)
“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.”
After reading this opening verse there shouldn’t be any doubt as to who this is. It is clearly and convincingly Jesus Christ.
First notice the cloud. John doesn’t mention that he saw a cloud because he likes clouds or because he wants us to pay attention to the weather patterns at the moment, this cloud is theological in its significance. On Sinai when the glory of God came down it was a cloud that descended on the mountain (Ex. 19:9, 16). It was a cloud that filled the finished temple in Solomon’s day (1 Kings 8:10). It was the same cloud that Ezekiel saw leave the temple (Ezek. 10:18). It is a cloud Daniel saw in Daniel 7 when he saw the vision of one like a son of man. This same bright cloud surrounded Jesus at His transfiguration on the high mountain with Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:5). We shouldn’t be surprised then that Jesus said in Matthew 24:30 that he’ll return on the clouds of heaven. And we also shouldn’t be surprised that Revelation 1:7 says He’ll be coming again with the clouds. That we see this cloud again here in v14 tells us this is the exalted Christ, the Son of Man, returning in His power and glory with the clouds being His kingly chariot.
Second notice the crown. That Christ is wearing a golden crown does imply His kingly nature, but it also implies more. The word for crown here in Greek is stephanos, a word implying a reward or victory. That John uses this word is important because he could’ve used the Greek word diadema, a word implying royalty. Truly Jesus is King, but that John uses stephanos means victory is in view. This is the same word used to describe Olympic champions in ancient Greece who won their events and wore a garland wreath on their heads. This is what we’re to see in this. Jesus is returning on the clouds with glory and power as the victorious one, the One who fully conquered the world, the flesh, and the devil in His life, death, and resurrection, and now the One who will finally conquer as the ultimate Victor over all things.
Third notice the sickle. Does it surprise you to see this in His hands? This is not the tool of a patient planter but the tool of one who reaps. And the following verses will show us this is just what Christ intends to do here. The Church has asked for ages upon ages for laborers to be sent out into this harvest and God answered and sent them. But now the laborers are done, the harvest is ripe, and ready to be gathered in. They’ve been together for some time but now the time has come for the wheat to be separated from the tares, the sheep from the goats. Or we could say, the mixed bag that is all of humanity will be sorted out in this moment. Those who have repented and believed the gospel will be taken into rapturous delight in the presence of Christ while those who have rebelled and scorned the gospel will be cast into hell forever. We see more of this and what it means in a minute, for now continue on to v15-19 where we see…
The Helpers (v15-19)
“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.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 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.” 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.”
We’ve seen the Harvester, we now see His helpers. In v15-19 those helpers are three angels. The first angel, in v15-16, comes out from the temple and gives a command to Christ on the clouds. Or does he? Some have trouble here and say that no angel can command Christ to do anything. But look at where this angel comes from. He comes ‘from the temple’ meaning he has been sent from the throne room of God not to command the Son but to convey a message from the Father to the Son that the hour of judgment has come. Perhaps this reminds you of something Jesus said to His disciples. Mark 13:32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Now, because that is true what we see here in v15-16 is also true. Only the Father knows the hour and He has told the angel and the angel is to tell the Son. So, the Son swung His sickle and it says the earth was reaped. But then in the rest of the passage, from v17-19 we see two more angels come out from the temple or throne room of God to take part in the reaping as well. The second angel in v17 also has a sharp sickle in his hand while the third angel in v18 comes directly from the altar of God with the holy fire of sacrifice. These images tell us not only that more angels will carry out this final harvest alongside Jesus, it also shows us the manner in which they will do so. One angel will swing the sickle while the other angel comes with the fire of judgment. The one with the fire calls to the other to reap because the grapes are ripe, he does, and these grapes are thrown into what is called the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God.’ These are all symbolic images of graphic judgment that come from the Old Testament. Joel 3 describes a time when the Lord will come to judge the nations and on that day Joel 3:13 says, “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.” The meaning is that the wicked have grown ripe in their sin and will be gathered together by God’s sickle and trod down in the vats of God’s winepress. All of this, by the way, is where the phrase ‘grapes of wrath’ comes from. Which is what the imagery means in the first few lines of the Civil War anthem TheBattle Hymn of the Republic.
This kind of judgment didn’t take place in Joel’s day, so the question is when will Joel’s words come to pass? We can point to two times. First, wonder of wonders the holy fire of God’s wrath fell on Christ on the cross and all who believe in Him are united to Him and because they’re now in Him they will not ever experience this fire. That then leads to the second time Joel’s words will come to pass: in this text today, which describes the final harvest of the earth as the angels are sent out by the Father with Christ to bring the holy fire of judgment onto the wicked. So, the conclusion we reach at this point is sobering. All sinners will face this fire. Either we will embrace the Lamb of God slain for sinners and be hid in Him from this fire, or we will face the fire on our own and be trod down in God’s winepress for all eternity.
Well, all the cast has been revealed to us: the Harvester and His helpers, and as we move to end of our passage in v20 we come to see the moment itself.
The Harvest (v20)
Long ago in Isaiah 63:1-6 we get imagery of this final judgment. There God says He will come in splendid apparel, marching in great strength. But as He marches His splendid apparel turns red. Why? Because He, in His anger, has trodden down the wicked and their blood spattered up on Him. That imagery now comes to fulfillment in v20 as we read, “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.”
There outside the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the holy fire of God comes down as He presses down on the wicked (likened to be overripe grapes) and what flows out in all directions is so much blood that horses can swim in it. 1,600 stadia is the measurement we’re given. Some interpret this as a literal number saying it’s near the exact length of Palestine. But that interpretation seems to localize what is truly a global and final moment. Rather I think it’s best to see it as a symbolic number. 1,600 is the square root of forty, a number used over and over in Scripture in regard to judgment, implying that what we’re seeing here isn’t a localized event, no. It’s a complete and perfect and final judgment that encircles the whole earth.
As the current pandemic has confined most of us to our homes and still continues to unfold daily, I’m sure many of you have seen the conversation begin to adjust over this past week. It isn’t so much projections I’m seeing anymore but how this whole ordeal has humbled us. To think that such a small thing can upset and throw the whole globe into disarray has shown many how fleeting this life is. And I’m glad for that. Yet compare how much greater this final harvest will be. I don’t ever want to down play the virus, what it can do, and how dangerous it is, but I do want to point out how it is just a drop in a bucket compared to the ocean of wrath that will be poured out on all those who reject the gospel.
While this ought to bring a great measure of comfort to those already in Christ it ought to bring a great deal of terror to all those outside of Christ. So, if you just so happen to be tuning in to this livestream right now and you’ve never acknowledged and turned from your sin to trust in Christ I’d like to remind you that what we’ve discussed this evening is not far off. It will come like a thief in the night, and none will escape it.
Picture it perhaps like this…
A man is seated in a plane. A flight attendant gives this man a parachute and tells him to put it on saying it will ‘improve’ his flight. Not understanding how a parachute could possibly improve his flight and growing a little skeptical, he puts it on to see if it’s true. After strapping it on he notices its weight, that he has difficulty sitting upright, and how its horribly uncomfortable. But then he sees more. He’s the only one wearing a parachute, and some of the other passengers begin laughing at him, which humiliates him. Unable to stand it any longer, he slumps in his seat, unstraps the parachute, and throws it to the floor. Disillusionment and bitterness fill his heart because, as far as he is concerned, he was told a lie.
Now go back and imagine the whole situation went like this. A man is seated in a plane. A flight attendant gives this man a parachute. But this time he’s told to put it on because at any moment he will be making an emergency exit out of the plane and will have to jump out at 25,000 feet. This time the man gratefully straps the parachute on. He doesn’t notice its weight upon his shoulders or that he can’t sit upright or how uncomfortable he is. His mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen to him if he jumped without it. When other passengers laugh at him, he remains firm and keeps it on because he knows what’s coming.
Revelation 14 is one of those passages in Scripture that reminds us of the jump to come. May you put on the Lord Jesus Christ beforehand, and find Him to be abundantly satisfying both here in this life and in the life to come, regardless how easy or difficult our ‘plane ride’ is.
 Joel R. Beeke, Revelation – Lectio Continua, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016) 406.
 Leon Morris does not think this is Christ, but an important angel.
 Beeke, Revelation, 407.
 G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015) 310.
 Beeke, Revelation, 409.
 Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, First Edition (Phillipsburg, N.J: P&R Publishing, 2001), 209.
 Beale, Revelation, 310.
 Beeke, Revelation, 413-15.
 Beale, Revelation, 313.
 Beeke, Revelation, 416.
 Illustration from Ray Comfort.