The church of the Lord Jesus Christ stands before the beasts of Humanism and Religion and proclaims the Eternal Gospel. This is vividly presented in Revelation Chapter 13 and the first 13 verses of Chapter 14, but then the scene shifts to two dramatic end-time events, the gathering in of the church and the judgement of the godless. The visionary picture John uses to present these events is that of harvest, the gathering in of the wheat and the crushing of the grapes.
There were two major harvest times in ancient Israel; the grain harvest in April/May and the grape harvest in September/October. Passover was linked to the wheat harvest and the Feast of Tabernacles to the grape harvest. The two harvests of Revelation 14:14-20 draw on this familiar imagery.
John sees a vision of ‘one like a son of man’ harvesting the wheat. He has already applied this ascription to the Lord Jesus and the description he gives in Revelation 1:13 is very similar to Daniels description of ‘The Ancient of Days’ (Daniel 7:9-10). There is little doubt in my mind that Jesus himself, and not an angel, is in view here in the wheat harvest scene of Revelation 14.
This wheat harvest symbolises the gathering in of all followers of Jesus who are physically alive when He returns in glory. Matthew 13:24-29 records Jesus’ parable of the wheat harvest as representing the church and we can make a connection here to the harvest of Revelation 14.
The message conveyed by the grape harvest in this passage of Revelation is equally clear, but a lot more graphic. An angel swings his sickle on the earth and the grapes are gathered and thrown into ‘the great winepress of God’s wrath’. Once again, it is clear that the harvest depicted here is of people and not produce because it states that ‘they were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia’ (Revelation 14:20). The primary source of this imagery is Joel 3:12-14, and I am reproducing it in full here because it is worth reading in the context of Revelation 14.
‘Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. 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!’
There is a small detail in Revelation’s description of the grape harvest that we need to note; the ‘trampling’ takes place outside the city. In Old Testament times Jerusalem was the ‘city of God’, the place of His temple which represented his presence in the midst of His people. The crushing of the ‘grapes of wrath’ references those who are not within the ‘city of God’. It is a judgment scene, a depiction of great punishment. We, as followers of Jesus Christ are often corrected and sometimes chastised, but we are not the objects of God’s wrath and judgement. The wheat is gathered and brought into God’s storehouse but the grapes are crushed outside of God’s storehouse. This is an important distinction to make as we come to the end of Part Four of Revelation because the next two chapters are all about the plague bowls of God’s wrath and we need to understand that believers are not in view here.
I want to return to Jesus’ parable of the wheat harvest that I cited earlier because it contains two vital lessons for us. It reads as follows:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30)
The first lesson to draw from this is that the church of our day contains both wheat and weeds, saved and unsaved, true disciples of Jesus but also those who are mere professors of His lordship. Just being a church member does not make one ‘wheat’, and nor does church attendance or adherence to rites and rituals. What makes the difference between ‘wheat’ and ‘weeds’ is the regenerating action of the Holy Spirit when He gives new birth into Christ. When we are ‘born again’ of the Spirit (John 3:1-11) then we are incorporated into the body of Christ and become His followers, His disciples, His family.
The second lesson is that it is not for us to attempt to judge who within the church are ‘wheat’ and who are ‘weeds’, let alone attempting to root out those we consider weeds. We do not know the hearts of others (half the time we don’t even understand our own hearts) and if we attempt to do what Jesus has expressly prohibited, then we will damage the church. We will become critical and legalistic and will undoubtedly censure many people who are true believers passing through difficult spiritual times.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who died and went to heaven. When he arrived there he was greatly surprised to see so many people whose deaths had preceded his whom he didn’t expect to see in heaven. But what shocked him the most was the looks of utter surprise that appeared on their faces when they caught sight of him.
In my next post, I hope to introduce the 5th section of the Book of Revelation… why don’t you read chapters 15 to 18 in preparation keeping in mind that if you know Jesus as Saviour and Lord then you are not a subject of the Bowls of Wrath described in these chapters!