14 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 ESV
Once again, John uses the phrase, “Then I looked, and behold.” This signals another change in scene as well as another aspect of the coming judgment on the earth. John is given a vision of a white cloud on which sat “one like the son of man.” While John does not provide us with the identify of this individual, the title “son of man” is most typically used in Scripture as a title referring to Jesus’ humanity and also when speaking of his future rule over earth and its inhabitants. Daniel used the same title when referring to Jesus and His second coming.
13 “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 ESV
John had also described Jesus in this same way when he first saw Him in the vision of the heavenly throne room.
13 …and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. – Revelation 1:13-16 ESV
Jesus Himself used the same term when referring to His future return to the earth.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” – Matthew 25:31 ESV
So, it is quite easy to deduce that the one John sees coming on the cloud is a representation of Jesus as He returns to the earth for the final time. He is described as wearing a golden crown (stephanos) which was typically awarded to victors. And He is carrying a sharp sickle, which is an instrument symbolic of judgment (Mark 4:29). Then John sees an angel coming out of the temple in heaven, calling out in a loud voice and telling Jesus that the time to reap or judge has come. The fact that the angel has come from the temple is an indication that this message is from God Himself. He is telling His Son that the harvest of the earth is “fully ripe.” It is more than ready. In a sense, the harvest is overly ripe and past due for harvest. The term “fully ripe” actually means “to wither away” and pictures fruit that has been on the vine too long. It is in a less-than-ideal state. So, God commands Jesus to begin His judgment of earth’s inhabitants. And John reveals describes seeing Jesus swing his sickle and the earth was reaped. The Greek word is therizō, and it infers that the harvest was “cut down.” It may be that this harvest, using the imagery of wheat or grain refers to the judgment of the unbelieving Gentiles. The second harvest, which John sees next, uses the imagery of grapes, a common symbol in the Old Testament of the people of Israel. So, it may represent that judging of unbelieving Jews. But both judgments or harvests take place at the end of the tribulation with the return of Christ.
John sees a second angel coming out of the temple in heaven and he too is carrying a sharp sickle. And yet a third angel, coming out from the alter in the temple, calls out to the second angel, commanding him to “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). Once again, the fruit or harvest is described as ripe, but John uses a different Greek word, akmazō, which means “fully mature.” It describes grapes that are virtually bursting because of their fullness. It is another image describing the past due nature of mankind’s sin and rebellion. John is being given a preview of what is to come when Christ returns to the earth. As the Son of God, He will be given the authority to judge the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth. And, like overly ripe grapes, virtually bursting with the juice of their sin and rebellion, they will be gathered together and thrown into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19 ESV). And the juice or blood of these unbelieving individuals will overflow the winepress to such an extent that it will be up to four-feet deep in some places. This imagery is shocking and difficult to comprehend. But it is meant to reveal that the judgment of God will be severe and sudden. And the prophet Joel used similar imagery to describe the final days of the tribulation.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.
13 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.
14 Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision. – Joel 3:12-14 ESV
The prophet Isaiah gave us a prophecy concerning this final judgment as well.
1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
mighty to save.”
2 Why is your apparel red,
and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?
3 “I have trodden the winepress alone,
and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
and stained all my apparel.
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and my year of redemption had come.
5 I looked, but there was no one to help;
I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
and my wrath upheld me.
6 I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
I made them drunk in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” – Isaiah 63:1-6 ESV
The second coming of Christ will be marked by several major battles where countless millions will die. The enemies of God will resist His Son and refuse to acknowledge His rightful place as King. But He will defeat them. Later on in his book, John will describe yet another vision of Jesus, seated on a white horse and leading the host of heaven in a victory procession.
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV
The son of man, Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and coming King, will one day reclaim His rightful place on David’s throne and rule the world in justice and righteousness. But first, He will judge the world, meting out the wrath of God on all those who have refused to honor Him as God. His Son will vindicate His name. The rebellion waged against God, attempted by all those who refused to worship Him as God, will be put down once and for all. John is being given a glimpse into the final days of God’s judgment, as His Son brings to a close the period of the tribulation, in preparation for the setting up of His millennial Kingdom on earth.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.