The Harvest and the Vintage
First of all, I would say that our text gives us reason to believe that the elect of God, the church of Christ, will be taken up just before the end. I do not mean from the point of view of time, but rather that of order. There is in our text a reference to a wheat harvest and a vintage, the gathering of grain and the cutting off of the clusters of the vine of the earth. Now there are interpreters who maintain that both these visions refer to the reaping of the wicked, to the worshippers of the beast and his image, and that there is no mention here at all of the removal of God’s children from the earth. Naturally, many are forced to adopt this interpretation for the simple reason that they have caused the church to go to heaven at a much earlier period. But these interpreters fail to explain to us why the Lord in that case gives us two visions of such an entirely different nature. The first vision merely speaks of the reaping, but the second leaves immediately the impression of being a harvest of a different nature. In connection with it we read of the altar and of the angel that has power over fire, of the winepress of the wrath of God, and of the blood that reaches up to the horses’ bridles. In a word, the first harvest leaves no impression of judgment and vengeance while the second does. Interpreters that refuse to make a distinction fail to explain the fact that we have nevertheless two visions of a different nature. Besides, what we read elsewhere in Scripture gives us reason to maintain that in our text we have reference to the gathering of God’s people and of the wicked both. The wheat harvest generally is a symbol that refers to the gathering of God’s people. In Luke 3:17 we hear John the Baptist testify of Jesus: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner.” True, the figure may be taken as referring to both God’s people and the wicked, seeing that there is chaff among the wheat and that the tares have grown up among it. But the purpose of the wheat harvest is nevertheless the gathering of the wheat, not the gathering of the tares or of the chaff. And the gathering of the wheat is a symbol of the removal of God’s people from the earth. So also the harvest of the wicked is more than once referred to in the Word of God as the cutting of the grapes and gathering of them in the winepress, to be pressed and trodden. In Joel 3:13we read: “Put, ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.” And in Isaiah 63:3we have the vision of the man that cometh from Edom, with bloodstained garments from Bozrah â€• a passage â€• of Scripture which is so often erroneously quoted as referring to the suffering Servant of Jehovah. There we read: “I have trodden the winepress alone: and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments.”‘ Evidently in both these passages we have a picture of the end of the wicked in the symbol of the winepress of the wrath of God. And therefore we may regard it as established that also in our text the distinction is made, and that in the first vision we have a picture of the removal of God’s people from the earth, in the second a symbol of the end of the wicked power of Antichrist.
Secondly, we may remark that also this portion teaches us that the people of God shall be removed first. Their removal is mentioned first: the wheat harvest shall be gathered first of all. And although the fact that it is mentioned first in the vision does not at all establish beyond a doubt that thus it shall be in reality, other parts of the Word of God give us the same impression. In chapter 11 of the book of Revelation we found that the two witnesses, representing the church, after their three days of shame and suffering, when they were as outcasts in the world, were called up to heaven and ascended thither. And in Matthew 24:22 the Lord says: “And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Also this word gives us the same impression. Not history shall be shortened; but for the elect the days shall be shortened. That is, they shall be taken away first of all. Besides, this is practically in the nature of the case. The removal of the wicked shall be a scene of general destruction and upheaval. It shall be a scene in which the people of God may not participate for the simple reason that it is the manifestation of the wrath of God. Hence, they must be removed first. And so the order in which these two visions are given us is supported by other passages of the Word of God. The first harvest is the removal of the people of God. They shall be gathered by the holy angels from the four winds, and they shall leave the scene of their suffering and affliction to enter into glory.
To this may finally be added that also the events that are mentioned in Scripture as being typical of the harvest of the latter days corroborates this view. God sends the flood to destroy the wicked world; but that destruction of the world may not strike His own people. And therefore the destruction does not come till Noah and his people are separated in the ark. God means to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But again, there are people of God in that city. And the destruction that shall lay the city in ruins may not destroy the people of Jehovah. Hence, the destruction does not begin till Lot is led outside. So it shall be also in the time of the end. Two shall be in bed: the one shall be taken, and the other left. God’s people must first be removed; and after they have been removed, the destruction of the wicked, the harvest of the grapes, may proceed.
We obtain therefore this conception of the future, that there shall be a period â€• not very long, in fact â€• but nevertheless a period in which there will be no more people of God in the earth. And it is this period that is utilized to end the existence of the wicked upon the earth. That this is meant to be the vision of the vintage we have already shown. Let us notice in connection with the words of the passage we are now discussing that the reaping of the grapes is symbolic of the gathering of the nations into one place. The clusters of the earth, the various nations and peoples, must be cut, in order that they may be gathered into one place. Notice, in the second place, that the place where they are gathered is the winepress of the wrath of God, a place designated as being outside of the city. And notice, in the third place, that from this juncture the scene changes into one of battle and bloodshed. The grapes are pressed; and as they are pressed blood comes out, so much that it reaches to the bridles of the horses, and that for sixteen hundred stadia, or furlongs. It is, therefore, a tremendous battle that is here pictured. The nations shall finally be gathered for battle, and such a battle as the world has never seen before shall be fought. The winepress of the wrath of God shall be trodden in that place.
But the question is: how can we picture this in reality? You remember our explanation of Jerusalem and the temple in connection with chapter 11. Then we said that the city of Jerusalem at large stood for nominal Christendom in its widest sense, that the outer court stood for the show-church, or the hypocrites in the church, and that only the holy place represented the true people of God. Now what has happened? Jerusalem, as nominal Christianity, still exists. The Christian world is still there, in distinction from heathendom. But it has become the kingdom of Antichrist. Jerusalem is Babylon, the center of the power that opposes the kingdom of God. We must clearly grasp the situation. At the end of time nominal Christianity shall be antichristian. Jerusalem in the outward sense shall be Babylon in character. Still more, the people of God have been removed. The holy place is no more. And therefore, all that is left is outward Christianity, which is in reality the antichristian kingdom. That antichristian power is for a time lording it over all nations. The kingdom of Antichrist is universal. It is also supreme over those other nations that do not belong to the outward Christian world, the nations of heathendom, called Gog and Magog in Scripture. For a time all is well. Gog and Magog, the heathen nations, are ruled over by the outward Christian world, which is in reality antichristian, or outward Jerusalem, which is in reality Babylon. These nations are as yet not aroused, but they never become an integral part of that universal kingdom. They never embrace its cause. They never truly adopt its religion. They remain heathen. And therefore they stand diametrically opposed to the Christian world. For them the kingdom of Antichrist is still Christianity. And what has already become Babylon is still Jerusalem in the estimation of those nations. That is the situation. There is one universal kingdom. And in that one universal kingdom there is peace for a time, complete peace. But there are two elements in that kingdom nevertheless. In the first place, there is the element of the Christian world, of the civilized nations that have become antichristian. But in the second place, there is also the element of the heathen nations, as, for instance, China and Japan and all that refuse to embrace the cause of Christianity. And they never become an integral part in the kingdom of Antichrist. Now what shall happen in the future? Gog and Magog shall finally be aroused against the Christian nations in the outward sense. You must clearly understand the situation. There are no true Christians any more. No, they have been taken away from the earth. But outward Christianity, outward Jerusalem, still exists for a short time. And that outward Christianity, that nominal Jerusalem, which is in reality Antichrist and Babylon, shall be looked upon by these heathen nations as Christianity itself and as the real Jerusalem. And they shall be aroused. They shall say: “Let us go up to Jerusalem. Let us break loose from the bondage of the Christian nations and destroy them.” They think that they strike at the people of Christ, whom they hate. And they shall come against them. And thus the greatest, bloodiest battle of history shall ensue, although, I repeat, all this shall last but a little time in the history of the end. Antichrist shall prepare himself for the battle, shall beat the plowshares again into swords, and shall gather his armies. All the kingdom of Antichrist, all Babylon, shall gather together for the great battle. In their estimation this battle will be the last. It will wipe out heathendom. And the nations of heathendom will do the same. They shall gather their armies and prepare for the battle. And the place where they shall meet will be the winepress of the wrath of the Most High. It will be outside of the city, outside of nominal Jerusalem, outside of Babylon, outside of the Christian world, perhaps in the literal sense of the word. Terrible will be the bloodshed in that battle. In fact, the nations shall destroy one another, and the wrath of God shall tread upon them till they are destroyed completely. For the blood shall form a stream which denotes the completeness of their destruction. It will reach to the horses’ bridles and will be sixteen hundred furlongs in length. Sixteen hundred evidently denotes the lifeblood of the world in its completeness. Four is the number of the world. Ten is the number of completeness. Sixteen hundred is forty times forty, and therefore denotes the lifeblood of the whole world. At the same time, the scene already pictured in the sixth trumpet shall be realized. It shall be a day of thick darkness. The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be changed into blood. Earthquakes and thunder shall add horror, till the entire power of Antichrist and Gog and Magog is actually destroyed.
Let me call your attention to the fact that this is in harmony with the Word of God in general. Isaiah pictures to us the same scene in chapter 34 of his prophecy. There we read: “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.” Or a still more vivid picture and graphic description of the last great battle is given in Joel 3:9-17: “Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the Galley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain; then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.”
Such shall be the order of events. When shall all these things be? Of course, no one knows the day and the hour. But nevertheless it may be said that the picture of the harvest is significant in this respect: it tells us that the harvest must be ripe and that all history must pass through its own necessary process before these things shall be. The church must have been completed. The gospel must have been preached to all men. And the wickedness of the wicked must be full. History must finish its course. And therefore it teaches us that we must not look out of the window in the expectation that these things shall come tomorrow, or even today. They shall not. First must be the man of sin. The antichristian kingdom must come to complete manifestation. Then must the people of God be oppressed and pushed to the wall, and live as outcasts upon the earth. Then must Gog and Magog be aroused from its sleep and contemplate the great war against the power of Antichrist. And then all things shall come as we are told in Scripture. Christ shall remove His people. He shall stir up the nations against one another. It shall be an awful day. But the people of God shall then be on earth no more. But once more: these things shall not happen tomorrow. They may happen quickly. We are making history fast. Let, then, our eye be fixed on the promise. And let us not be afraid. Christ is our King, and He rules now and forever. And He that sits in the heavens shall laugh. At the last battle of Jehovah He shall gather them all together and tread them in the great winepress of His wrath. Let no one then take our crown; but may we be found faithful even unto the end.