Revelation: The Time is Near
“I have just two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.” So said Martin Luther. By “this day” he meant today. By “that Day” he meant the last day of this age, judgment day.
His statement reflects a healthy perspective. Live for today in light of the coming judgment. Live now so that it will go well on the last day when you face God’s assessment. Live regret-free over the past. Live worry-free about the future. Live every moment ready to give an account to God for that moment. How differently we would live if we had only two days on our calendar. What peace and joy would fill each hour. What simplicity would mark our lives. How helpful we would be to others. How boldly humble we would be.
Adopting such a perspective requires knowing something about judgment day. Revelation 14 portrays a vision of that Day. Let’s examine the vision. Take a Bible and turn to the last section of Revelation 14 on p. 1036 of the church Bible. As you listen to vv. 14-20, identify the word picture that symbolizes the coming judgment.
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. 15 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.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 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.” 19 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. 20 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. (Revelation 14:14–20)
Revelation 14 pictures the final judgment as a harvest. It’s a common biblical comparison. Harvest is the climax of a farmer’s work. When the harvest is over, the year’s work is done. All of the planning, and preparation, and plowing, and planting, and persevering point to that day when the crops are all in.
The judgment harvest does not merely mark the end of a year, but the end of the age, the end of human history, the end of time as we experience it. Beyond the judgment lie two and only two destinies – the eternal delight of a new heaven and new earth; or eternal misery in a wasteland absent the blessing of God called hell.
Consider five features about this final judgment harvest from Revelation 14:14-20. There is much more to say about final judgment than what is here. We will draw on other passages. But let’s get a good sense of what this vision is communicating.
1. The Significance of the Harvest
First, note the significance of the harvest. We have been saying for several weeks that Revelation 12-14 recounts and replays the great conflict between God and Satan. We might expect that the conflict would end in a climactic battle. There will be such a battle. We will see it unfold in later chapters.
But in this short vision, the picture of the end is a harvest. It is a picture of a farmer right on schedule. His purposes have come to pass. He carries out his plans as intended. He’s in charge and his opposition in the conflict offers no resistance like a crop in the field or grapes on a vine.
2. The Sovereign of the Harvest
That leads to a second feature, the Sovereign of the Harvest. The word sovereign refers to supreme power and authority. It identifies the one who rules. The judgment harvest features God as the ultimate Sovereign.
Jesus Christ appears in v. 14 sitting on a cloud. John recognizes Him as the Son of Man from Daniel 7 in the OT.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14)
The Ancient of Days is God the Father. In Revelation 14, angels from the presence of the Father in the heavenly temple deliver His instructions about the final harvest (v. 15). And, we see Jesus Christ continuing to obey his Father perfectly. While on earth, Jesus anticipated his return as the coming of the Son of Man:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36–37)
This is a profound mystery. The eternal Son of God limits his knowledge of the future to honor his Father. He waits for his Father’s command to initiate final judgment. In one sense, Jesus waits for his second coming as we do. He waits to do his Father’s will. He completely trusts his Father’s wisdom. Even though Christ himself possesses all authority, He submits to his Father.
What an example for us. Even when the world overflows in wickedness, we continue to obey God. We wait for his timing to establish perfect justice. We obey as Christ obeys.
What an example for you children as you obey your parents. They are not God. Their wisdom is not perfect. But God has given them wisdom and authority in your home. You may not understand all that they require. But you can trust the Lord and obey them following Jesus’ example.
Our point this morning is that God is in full control of the final judgment. He directs it from His temple in heaven. He gives Instructions, and His servants carry them out immediately with full effect. The speed of the harvest demonstrates whose in control.
And on earth, judgment day will be, in a special sense, Jesus’ day. He will oversee the whole operation. He will ensure that His Father’s desires are completely fulfilled. V. 14 declares that Jesus has a crown on his head. He is ruling, sharing authority with His Father. He appears not as a Lamb but as the Son of Man with power to judge.
3. The Separation of the Harvest
The final judgment is like a farmer harvesting his crop because God is sovereign over his whole creation. He will judge. No one will stand in his way. However, notice that the judgment appears here as two harvests. There is a separation of the harvest. One harvest reaps grain (vv. 14-16). The other gathers grapes (vv. 17-20). In the first, Jesus, the Son of Man, personally harvests the grain. In the second, an angel gathers the grapes and throws them into the winepress.
Why two harvests? Why these two pictures side-by-side? The first harvest symbolizes Jesus gathering his people to Himself. The second symbolizes the judgment of the wicked under God’s wrath.
The Grain Harvest (vv. 14-16)
In the first phase of the harvest, Jesus fulfills what John the Baptist predicted he would do. As John announced the arrival of Jesus for public ministry, he declared about him,
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)
Farmers in that day rolled a heavy stone over harvested wheat to break open the pod around the good grain. The pod was worthless chaff. So the harvesters used a fork to throw the wheat into the air. The wind carried the light chaff out from the threshing shelter while the good grain fell back to the stone floor. Later, the farmer burned whatever chaff piled up.
Revelation does not include these details about the grain harvest. But the results are the same. Jesus Christ gathers his good grain, his faithful ones, to Himself. He told a parable in Mark 4.
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26–29)
In another parable, Jesus employs a similar word picture.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. (Matthew 13:24–26)
Jesus continues the story up until the harvest. Then Later in the chapter, he explains it:
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:37–43)
Again, Revelation describes the same event without all the details. But Jesus Christ’s purpose is clear. He will certainly gather all the righteous who belong to his Father into the eternal kingdom. He takes it as His responsibility. Those who refuse to submit to his law will suffer punishment.
The Grape Harvest (vv. 17-20)
In Revelation 14:17-20, that punishment is pictured as a grape harvest, the second phase of this final harvest. Christ delegates this harvest to an angel. Grapes ripe with wine symbolize rebels flush with sin. The angel cuts them off the vine and throws them into a winepress. Presumably servants, then, trample the grapes. The blood-wine flows into the valley and away from the city.
Significantly, this grape harvest happens at the direction of the angel that comes from the altar in the heavenly temple (v. 18). We met this angel in Revelation 8. HeThis angel oversees the fire on the altar. The smoke rising from the fire carries the prayers of the saints crying out for justice. Now, in chapter 14, the Father directs angels to execute that final justice.
God always answers prayers for the good of his people. He does not answer them as quickly as we like. He does not answer them in the way we expect. But He does not ignore the prayers of his people. You may have made your most lasting impact this week when you prayed. We all long for true justice. By faith receive the Lord’s promise and respond to his question:
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
Christian, when you experience or witness injustice, first pray. Cry out to God. Pour out your heart before him. He will honor the faith that clings to him. Your heart’s longing may not be satisfied until the Son of Man comes. But He will establish perfect justice on the earth. The wait will test you. But He will satisfy you.
This grape harvest represents another important separation. The winepress stands outside the city (v. 20). The city is the holy city, the dwelling place of Christ with his covenant people. It is the home of human beings in perfect fellowship with the God who has redeemed them from sin and judgment. Outside the city is a wasteland of destruction. On judgment day, when Christ completes his work, there will be only two kinds of people: Citizens of the city and outcasts from the city.
4. The Scope of the Harvest
There will be only two kinds of people because the scope of the harvest is worldwide. This is a brief but important point. The scope of the harvest is worldwide. Twice in these verses, once in v. 16 and again in v. 19 we see the phrase “across the earth.” The harvest is universal. No one escapes. No one overlooked.
This passage does not refer to it, but when Jesus reaps the grain of the earth in judgment, there will first be a resurrection. Jesus announced while on earth:
And [the Father] has given [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:27–29)
Perhaps the most haunting word in these verses is the short word “all.” Every human being of every time and every town will face judgment. Every tribe and tongue and territory will assemble before Jesus Christ.
On the one hand, the picture of judgment as harvest cuts us all down to size. The whole earth reaped with a single swing of a sickle. All humanity is like stalks of grain or grapes on a vine. On the other hand, the Bible assures us that the judgment will be individual.
On the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, 6 He will render to each one according to his works. (Romans 2:5–6)
5. The Suspension of the Harvest
Each person will meet Christ face-to-face in judgment. But that will not happen until “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” according to v. 15. The finality of this judgment indicates that it is still future. This is the last day.
So, what about today? Luther encourages us live with two days on our calendar, this day and that day. On this day, today, there is a suspension of the harvest. The angels have not yet emerged from the temple. The Son awaits his orders. The winepress is yet empty.
You are either anticipating that day with joy because justice will finally prevail, or with fear because … justice will finally prevail. If fear, you may be asking the question that Scrooge posed to the Ghost of Christmas Future in Charles Dicken’s novel as they entered a graveyard that Scrooge knew contained his own grave. “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be or are they shadows of the things that May be, only?”
These events will be. The harvest will come. But from our limited perspective today, for each person, the results of that day are a maybe. The only way to change fear to joy is to believe that the Judge has already been judged on the cross. That your judgment day has already passed. The Bible says that God the Father gave the word and crushed his Son like grain on a threshing floor or grapes in a winepress. The wrath of God against human sin burned his Son in the fiery furnace and he did not come out alive.
Do you believe that He took that judgment for you? Do you recognize and renounce your sin that required such death? If so, then Christ’s life is in You. You are safe in his righteousness. The coming day will be one of rejoicing as you shine in the glory of His kingdom.
If you have that hope in Christ, remember that when Jesus talked about this day, today, he spoke about a different kind of harvest. He told his disciples and tells us in his Word,
Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. (John 4:35–36)
He said this as a whole town of Samaritans, people whom the disciples had been taught to hate, were coming to follow Jesus. Today we sow the seed of the gospel everywhere and reap a harvest of those who come to faith in Jesus Christ.
As we live for that day, the day of the judgment harvest, we dare not neglect today’s harvest. In every way, Our God is Lord of the Harvest and he has sent us into today’s harvest.