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Reaping the Harvest (2)

Revelation 14:17-20
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, 'Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth's vine, because its grapes are ripe.' The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses' bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (NIVUK)

In this part of John's vision, the angels continue the reaping of the harvest of the earth. The text identifies the sixth and seventh angel of this scene of the vision in chapter 14. Previously, the harvest seems to have been grain (Revelation 14:14-16), and now it is grapes. Some have tried to identify these as two separate harvests, the harvests of the righteous and the wicked (Matthew 13:30): or the two may be seen as an example of Hebrew parallelism in which the same point is made in a different way to emphasise the principle. What is clear is that God will command His angels to reap the fruit of the earth, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2).

Israel was known as God's vineyard (Isaiah 5:7) but because its grapes were often not good, God threatened to trample it down (Isaiah 5:1-7). That matches the picture here of ripe grapes being trampled and producing blood. It is the winepress of God's wrath (Revelation 19:15), reflecting Joel 3:13: "Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness!" This is not just Israel but the nations (Isaiah 24:13; Revelation 10:1). The flow of this blood was like a tidal wave, high enough to almost cover horses for 300 kilometres. However the figurative language of 1600 may well represent the square of 4 (often used to represent the earth) multiplied by 100 – implying the complete destruction of the earth and judgement of the wicked.

The 'winepress outside the city' is reminiscent of the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, the public rubbish dump where the fire never goes out (Gehenna in Greek) – the earthly picture of hell. The seventh angel held the fire of judgement. We should also realise that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered outside the city, so that all who believe in Him will be rescued from hell (Hebrews 13:12). Refusal to trust Jesus leaves Him with no alternative to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

As this chapter comes to its conclusion, having outlined the sequence of events at the end of the world, the after-taste is one of the awesome power of God who sends His angels as grim reapers of wasted lives and rebellious hearts. But these images are not presented to the world to frighten them into the kingdom; they are given to the church. Why? To warn believers against apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-6), to encourage believers that the Lord has not abandoned them but will vindicate them and bring justice, and to give believers a potent reason to spread the gospel and draw rebels to Christ in repentance and faith. Which encouragement do you particularly need today? Do not step back from Christ – there is no other Saviour from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Do not give up on Jesus because He will bring justice (Luke 18:7). Do not fail to tell the unbelieving world, which will perish, about Jesus and His saving grace (John 3:16-18).

Father God. Thank You for Your saving grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is available to all who will believe. Forgive me for wandering from Christ, or despairing because my prayers for justice have not yet been answered, or for failing to speak boldly of Christ in the world ... which will perish under Your wrath. Help me to be securely rooted in Jesus, that I will trust Him obediently in lifestyle and gospel proclamation until He comes. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams