PMT 2014-087 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.Harvest

In Rev 14:14–16 we find the following vision:

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.”

What is this harvest? Is it a negative image of judgment? Or is it a positive image of something else? The next vision of the grape harvest is certainly one of judgment (Rev 14:17–20).

This is not a judgment vision of devastation. Rather, this harvest refers to God’s securing the remnant in first-century Israel during the destructin of the temple, rather than his gathering the elect at the consummation (though as a “first fruits” action it certainly anticipates that final harvest). That it portrays a positive ingathering of his people appears from the following:

(1) This vision occurs immediately after positive statements of the perseverance of the faithful (14:12), the benediction upon them (14:13a), and the promise of rest from their labors (14:13b). Since they are so blessed, this fits well with this vision speaking of the Son of Man protectively gathering his own.

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(2) The “white” color of the cloud upon which the Son of Man sits is not an appropriate image for the storm of God’s judgment. In Rev judgment phenomena involve thunder, lightning, hail and so forth (4:5; 8:5; 10:3; 11:19; 16:18; 19:6) which are more naturally associated with dark clouds (see the storm clouds rolling ominously across the sky in 6:14). Darkness characterizes judgment in Rev (8:12; 9:2; 16:10; 18:23). Besides John’s Gospel speaks of the evangelistic opportunity as fields being “white for harvest” (Jn 4:35) which may impact the whole picture as a positive thought.

(3) This harvesting of grain picks up on the earlier positive statement in 4c which declares the “blameless” 144,000 to be the “first fruits.” First fruits are harvested as a token of the favor of God (cp. Lev 23:9-14) sot that it becomes a time of celebration (Dt 16:9ff).

(4) Nothing particularly judgmental is stated in this vision, though the following vision involves dramatic images that are indisputably judgmental (vv 17–20). In fact, the vintage concept reappears in a strong judgment vision in 19:11–16. That Christ sits enthroned in 14:14 does not indicate destructive judgment dominates the whole passage (Osborne 551). In Mt 25:31 the Son of Man comes at the end of history to “sit on his glorious throne,” which involves his separating his sheep from the goats so that the goats might be judged.

(5) The vision of the 144,000 in the protective presence of the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1–5) fits the notion of protective ingathering in this vision. The positive image of this grain harvest is set before the negative portrayal of the vintage, like the original number of the 144,000 (7:4–8) preceding the trumpet judgments (8:1ff), and as the measuring of the inner temple precedes the outer temple’s destruction (11:1-2). John repeatedly emphasizes God’s protective presence during times of great judgment.

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(6) Some NT references elsewhere speak of a protective ingathering of the harvest. At least one of these involves a (first fruits!) harvest at the end of the old covenant era as God’s judgment befalls Israel in AD 70 (Mt 3:12; cp. 3:11 with Acts 1:5; 2:16-21). This does not require a physical resurrection but most likely represents a spiritual gathering into the church (which involves a spiritual resurrection, cp. Jn 5:24-26). Other references speak of the final, physical resurrection involving a protective harvest of God’s people at the end of history (Mt 13:30; 21:34).

In Mt 24:30-31 the Son of Man’s coming on the clouds in AD 70 (Mt 24:2) involves not only judgment on the “all the tribes of the Land who will mourn,” but will also “gather together His elect from the four winds,” i.e., gather them into a separate and distinct body from Israel: the church (cp. Jas 2:2; Heb 10:25). If the harvest in 14:14-16 portrays the positive protection of God’s people and the following vintage in 14:17-20 represents his judgment upon their persecutors, then this follows the recurring protective pattern elsewhere in Rev (e.g., 7:1-8; 11:1-2).

This harvest of the remnant functions much like the sealing of the 144,000 (Rev 7:1–8) and the measuring of the inner court of the temple (11:1–2): it protects believing Jews in the midst of the Jewish War with Rome.

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