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. 
Perhaps this passage, with its graphic imagery of grapes in a winepress, recalls for you the American political propaganda phrase popularized by Unitarian hymnist Julia Ward Howe in her 1861 pro-Union civil war hymn, “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” There is as much horrible doctrine in that Unitarian hymn as there are words. And yet it’s trotted out for patriotic church services that worship God and America every July 4th. Righteousness inhabited political doctrines of abolition and federalism.
You might also be familiar with John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s title suggested America’s new civil war was between oppressed farm workers as the slave class against greedy capitalists as the enslaving oppressors. Righteousness inhabited the political doctrine of socialism.
You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Revelation 14, like the rest of this letter, is painted with the colors of the Old Testament. Our text paints with the colors of the Angel of the Lord (68 references, including: Gen 16; Ex. 3; Num. 22; Judg. 2; 5; 6; 13; 2 Sam. 24; etc.). Also, we find the color of God judging earth-dwellers like grapes smashed to make wine (Joel 4; Isa. 6; 18; Jer. 32). True righteousness is an attribute of the Divine Judge and his Messiah, not of 19th or 20th-century American political movements.
This passage closes out the fourth section of the letter of Revelation. Section one comprised the first three chapters and Jesus’ prophecies to the seven churches. The second section (4-7) took John through heaven’s open door to see the sovereign reigning Lion-Lamb break seven seals of earthly judgment and blessing. Chapters 8-11, the 3rd section, restated God’s judgment and blessing using the picture of seven trumpets. The section we’re finishing this morning, part four (12-14), has shown the main characters in the great spiritual battle of history: Messiah, his church (the Israel of God), the devil, and his beasts of political power and social pressure.
In this 4th section, we have seen a war in heaven between Satan and his minions and the elect angels. Christ, having finished his atoning cross work and being resurrected and ascended, has ended Satan’s job as a heavenly prosecutor and the heavenly angels have disbarred him and ejected him from the heavenly courtroom. John describes how the woman (the Israel of God) is assaulted by the dragon (who is Satan). Because God protects the woman from the dragon, the dragon is enraged and enlists two surrogates (beasts) to continue his assault upon the people of God. 
The first of these demonically-driven tools of Satan is the sea beast who, in John’s day, took the form of the Roman empire. The sea beast is governmental power. The second Satanic tool is the land beast, later called the false prophet. The land beast is culture, societal norms, all persons and ideas and institutions that pursue the demonic idols of self-worship and self-generated happiness. This unholy trinity bears the number of unredeemed man, the number of incompleteness: 666.
This unholy trinity persecutes the true Israel of God (pictured as 144,00 sealed holy warriors) with political, physical, and social oppression. It spews out false doctrines it pressures God’s people to adopt and teach. But God opens the ground to swallow the flood of lies just as he sucked Korah and his fellow rebels into the grave in Moses’ day (Num. 16).
MESSIAH HARVESTS THE WHEAT (14:14-16)
Verses 1-13 brought us to the brink of Christ’s return with the angelic promise that unrepentant earth-dwellers “will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Now comes the great harvest of the earth, another picture of the same final world-wide judgment depicted in the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet. It is another picture of the promise from Rev. 1:7, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him….”
Our text begins, “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.” Some students believe John is describing an angel since verse 15 begins, “And another angel….” But you know better because we have already studied the son of man imagery in Rev. 1:13-20 and the angel of the Lord imagery in chapter 10. The son of man reference comes originally from Daniel 7:13 and from our Lord himself, particularly in Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 as Jesus unpacks the last days for his disciples. You will recall the cloud is a reference to the Shekinah glory of YHWH and the golden crown is the symbol of Messiah’s victory, his status as the overcomer of the grave and the devil’s works.
Why, though, would another angel command Messiah, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”? Doesn’t Christ command angels, not vice versa? The angel comes from the temple, the throne room of God the Father, to whom God the Son submits in the great covenant of salvation. The angel brings the command of the Father to the Son. “Christ must be informed by God about the time for judgment to begin, since ‘of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).”
Some students believe this coming of Messiah is just a picture of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. because they believe the letter was written 40 or more years earlier than most of us believe it was; to them all of Revelation’s events take place before 70 AD. But the Son of Man language belongs only to the end of the last days and the final harvest of the entire earth. God promised that world-wide harvest in Joel 3:12-13.
Jesus’ own words echo Joel’s prophecy when he explained his Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:37) to his disciples:
The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.
The harvest at the end of the age is the second advent of Jesus, when judgment comes upon the entire world. The wheat is spared and stored in the barn (Matt. 13:29). But the weeds are thrown into the fire. This indicates that Christ’s harvest in our text is associated with the final ingathering of the church, as when Jesus speaks of his angels as gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth, and when one is suddenly taken while the other is left to face the judgment (Cf. Matthew 24:31; 36-41). In Revelation 14:4, John has already spoken of believers as the first fruits of the harvest offered to God. Therefore, John’s vision of a harvest of grain is a glimpse of final blessing, when the harvest of souls is completed, and all God’s elect have been gathered by the angels.
That the saints are harvested by Christ as wheat is suggested by the Greek word for fully ripe which means to be dried up, as wheat grains become when ready for harvest (a different word for “ripe” is used of the grapes in v. 18). John the Baptizer contrasted the wheat of saints with the chaff of earth-dwellers (Matt. 3:12). In our text the harvest is fully ripe, meaning the full number of those sealed into Christ have come into faith-union with him. This gives us the primary mission of the church: to proclaim the gospel of Christ so that the harvest can be brought in.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” The great mission of the church is spreading the gospel through preaching and evangelism. The church doesn’t exist to give out self-help tips, political advice, feel-good stories, fabulous entertainment, or promises of health and wealth. It exists to announce there is deliverance from the world, the flesh, and the devil by trusting into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Messiah Jesus.
In our technological age, we have come to expect instant results and instant fixes. But that is not how the ordinary means of grace works in the Kingdom of God. The usual way in which grace works is over the long haul. Ground is plowed with fellowship, planted through preaching and teaching, and watered with prayer over long seasons. The fruit of grace comes from patient work. The enemy is always tempting us to give up. But faithful ministry requires patience and endurance to do God’s work in God’s way in God’s timings according to God’s Word.
Look at verse 16: “So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.” It is Christ, Messiah Jesus, the angel of the Lord who does the harvesting. No one is saved by hearing me. No one is saved by hearing you. The ONLY way to enter a right relationship with God is to hear Christ himself speaking through his Word by means of the Holy Spirit, saying, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! …Come, follow me.” 
Jesus is swinging the scythe even now as he calls out:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. …27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Maybe you like to garden. If so, you know harvests can fail. But Jesus’ harvest of his people will not, cannot fail. If you have been saved into Christ, you are kept by God – and you are not powerful enough to tear yourself out of his hand. The devil and his beasts cannot stop the harvest. They cannot even slow down the harvest the Son of Man is carrying out from his glory cloud. Jesus wants John’s first readers and you and me to know the certainty of their destiny.
THE GRAPE HARVEST
This section of chapter 14 teaches that every human being has a sure and certain destiny. We who trust into Jesus speak of our “salvation.” This imagery of the grape harvest reminds us of the horror from which we are saved: the bitter foaming cup of the wine of the wrath of God that all men must and shall drink until they fall and rise no more (Jer. 25).
John’s vision uses the colors of Joel 3:12-13,
Let the nations be roused; /let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat [“The Lord judges”], /for there I will sit /to judge all the nations on every side. /13Swing 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!
Beginning in verse 17 and continuing through the end of the chapter, comes the harvest of the earth-dwellers, all who refuse to worship God and instead worship their idols of self-generated happiness and the demons that lurk behind them. Two angels appear with sickles, one from the heavenly temple and one from the altar in the temple. The altar relates to the prayers of the saints (6:9-11). The reference to fire (from the altar) relates to fires of judgment (8:3-4). So again, we see God answering the prayer “Your Kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10).
The harvest of wrath is the destiny of those who scorn the law-keeping life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of the ascended and glorified Savior by refusing God the worship and glory he alone is due. They have mocked and afflicted the Israel of God. So, the angel of fiery judgment calls, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”  Blood begins to flow like grape juice. The full terror of God’s wrath begins to press down upon the earth-dwellers.
In ancient times, grapes were processed into wine by loading the grape bunches into the top of a two-tiered vat made of stone or brick. The bunches were smashed to press out the juice that flowed through holes down into the lower vat where it was collected for fermentation. This is a vivid picture of judgment: God crushing his enemies like grapes until their blood fills the length of ancient Palestine (roughly 1,600 stadia or 184 miles long) to the height of a human’s shoulders (reigns of a horse). The colors of this picture come from Joel 3 and Jeremiah 25. They also come from Isaiah 63:3-4, where God proclaims:
I have trodden the winepress alone; /from the nations no one was with me. /I trampled them in my anger /and trod them down in my wrath; /their blood spattered my garments, /and I stained all my clothing. /4 for the day of vengeance was in my heart, /and the year of my redemption has come. 
John notes this graphic and horrible judgment of God takes place outside God’s holy heavenly city, the very place represented by the earthly Jerusalem. Outside that earthly city, the perfectly-innocent God-Man was taken for his humiliating, shameful, torturous, death at the hands of all who rejected him. Why does God paint these horrible, graphicly-bloody pictures?
First, as a promise of his just and holy wrath against sinners. Second, as a warning for those with ears to hear and hearts to repent. Third, as a reminder to his people what their salvation cost their Savior. Salvation from the wrath of God is free for those who trust into Christ because Jesus drank the foaming bitter cup of the wine of the wrath of God to the very dregs in our place.
Matthew (27:48), Mark (15:36), and John (19:29) record this crucial picture of Messiah draining the cup of God’s holy wrath:
…knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 
All men must and shall drink God’s wrath. Either the Lord will have their blood, or they will have Christ’s blood. When Christ drained that cup, he bought your pain, your sorrow, your shame, your humiliation, your rejection and returns to you his joy, his honor, his esteem, and his acceptance.
Later, in Jeremiah’s sermon on the wine of the wrath of God, God promises this sure and certain thing:
33 And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground. 
Flee to Christ who was crushed and who bled for you, or be crushed and bled out by the bitter, horrible wrath of the holy God.
 Phillips, 418.
 Kim Riddlebarger, “God’s Wrath is Completed” (Rev. 14:14-15:8). http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/downloadable-sermons-on-the-go/Gods%20Wrath%20is%20Completed%20edited%2022.pdf
 Beale, 771.
 Beale, 772.
 Phillips, 419.
 Beale argues this section describes three scenes of the same judgment upon the earth-dwellers. See Beale, 770 ff.
 Riddlebarger, op. cit.
 ξηραίνω [xeraino /xay·rah·ee·no/] v. From 3584; GK 3830; 16 occurrences; AV translates as “wither away” six times, “wither” five times, “dry up” three times, “pine away” once, and “be ripe” once. 1 to make dry, dry up, wither. 2 to become dry, to be dry, be withered. 2a of plants. 2b of the ripening of crops. 2c of fluids. 2d of the members of the body. 3 to waste away, pine away, i.e. a withered hand.
 Phillips, 422.