The Angels and the Voice
It is not because they themselves are less faithful; not as if the stronger would have any power of their own. No, God has prepared them, and even prepared their works, also their special works. But what now shall become of these? Shall they all be lost? Shall in the day of judgment all these works dwindle away in the general bliss of God’s people? Of course not; their works shall follow them. And these works shall be rewarded. All shall enter into bliss: for Christ died for them, and they all die in the Lord. But all shall not attain to the same state of glory. There shall be distinction and difference. And those whom God prepared to do more work than others and to suffer more than others may thank the Lord God for this great privilege. For their works, shall follow them also in the new creation.
What a difference! By the light shed from heaven upon the scene of Antichrist the scene has changed completely. First the beast seemed to be supreme, and Babylon permanently established forever. Now the Lamb appears as the King over Zion. First the kingdom of the Holy One seemed to be a lost cause; now the kingdom of the beast is doomed to destruction. First the people of God seemed to be hopelessly lost; now the worshippers of the beast are sent to everlasting torment. First the worshippers of the beast seemed to be in control of all things and participated in the blessings of the kingdom; now the followers of the Lamb inherit everlasting bliss, and serve God and the Lamb day and night forevermore. Surely, the saints may indeed be patient. For all things are theirs, because they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
The Harvest and the Vintage
14. And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
When we read these words, we are, of course, immediately reminded of the fact that this constitutes the close of the vision that was begun to be pictured in the thirteenth chapter. Taking chapters 13 and 14 together, we found that they could not be separated; but they form one vision, a vision of the kingdom of Antichrist in its highest stage of development, and that both from the worldly point of view and from the point of view of heaven, God and His Anointed.
The first vision, that of the beast with his seven heads and ten horns, pictured to us the kingdom of Antichrist from the political point of view and informed us that the kingdom should be universal, established by the voluntary consent of all nations and peoples and tribes of the earth. The central power of this kingdom has sway over all peoples, and, at the same time, over all things, so that all are dependent upon the beast. And, in the second place, it pictured to us that final kingdom as being anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-kingdom, and anti-saints. All worship the beast. All admire this tremendous kingdom. But for the people of God there is no standing-room on the earth.
This last feature of the kingdom of Antichrist was pictured to us especially in the vision of the second beast, with his two horns like a lamb and speech like the dragon. He, so we found, was a picture of the false prophet, of the influence of false philosophy and false religion. And we found that this beast succeeded in uniting the whole world under his creed. They all took stock in the words of this beast. He made them make an image. He gave them a sign. And only the worshippers of the beast and his image, that had the sign, could participate in the blessings of the kingdom of Antichrist, the rest not being able to buy or sell.
The third vision was that of the Lamb on Mount Zion, which, so we found, began to shed an entirely new light upon the scene of worldly power and iniquity and oppression and idolatry. If it seemed as if the kingdom of Antichrist was actually supreme and everlasting, this vision tells us a different story. It tells us that God Almighty never anointed the beast or the dragon to rule, but that He has His own King over Zion and that this King surely shall have control over all things. He tells us for that very reason that God in the heavens sits and laughs about all the efforts of the beast and Satan, and that God’s people are perfectly safe. The one hundred forty-four thousand are all there, and not one is lacking.
The fourth vision was that of angels flying in mid-heaven, each delivering his message for the kingdom of Antichrist, and of a voice speaking of joy to those that die in the Lord. The first angel announced, to the comfort of God’s people, that God did not renounce His claim, but demanded as ever that every creature should bow before Him and worship Him as the God of heaven and earth. The second and third angels follow up this claim of the Almighty by announcing destruction upon the kingdom that rose against His sovereignty and upon the individual worshippers of the beast and his image. And, in conclusion, the voice spoke of joy and glory and rest for those that were subjected to tribulation and persecution in this dispensation because they refused to worship the beast.
Now we are at the close of the vision. The words of the passage quoted above take us to the end of time. Just as evidently the opening of the sixth seal in chapter six took us to the close of all human history, so also does the passage we are about to discuss, though from a slightly different point of view and with fuller development of detail. Nevertheless, also what is recorded in these words will again be spoken of in future chapters. And the fall of Babylon, the great harlot, and the treading of the nations in the winepress of the wrath of God will all be developed and pictured to us in future chapters with greater vividness and in greater detail. And therefore, in our present chapter we must discuss in a general way the harvest and the vintage, or the end of the world.
It does not need a lengthy discussion to convince us that the harvester in this case, or at least he who supervises the reaping of the earth, is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. We read: “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.” We are acquainted with the expression “one like unto the Son of man.” We are so well acquainted with this expression that we can never fail to recognize Him that bears this name. It is always used of Christ. It was the name with which Christ loved to call Himself. It denotes His all-overshadowing glory as the human servant of God. When John sees the vision of the seven golden candlesticks, he tells us that he also saw “in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a Son of man.” And we know immediately who He is. In Daniel 7:13 we read of the same person: “I saw in the night visions, and behold there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a Son of man; and he came even unto the Ancient of days.” And therefore, there is no possibility of mistaking the identity of this person that holds the sharp sickle. He is the Son of man, the Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, the Lamb who was slain, the King of Zion anointed by the Almighty to have dominion over all. Besides, also His sitting on the white cloud would lead us to the same conclusion. To come with the clouds has already become a standing expression, and it denotes an honor that is bestowed only upon Christ Jesus. Before the high priest, Jesus already had witnessed: “Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” And also in the first part of this book of Revelation the warning note was heard: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him.”Rev. 1:7. And, therefore, both these expressions “the Son of man” and “sitting on a white cloud” establish it beyond the shadow of doubt that here we have again a vision of Christ.
But how, in what capacity does He appear? In the first place, it is plain that He reveals Himself here as King. He is the Lamb on mount Zion and has been anointed by God to be king over all and that forever. He must rule. He has gained His kingdom by obedience even unto the death of the cross and now has received a name which is above every name. As such He now appears. His appearance spells evil and destruction to the beast and his dominion. For that beast has attempted to gain the kingdom over all. All dominion over which the beast apparently holds power belongs to this Son of man on the cloud. And, therefore, that He appears here, while antichrist rages, certainly can only mean destruction for the usurper. But, at the same time, the appearance of the Son of man on the white cloud also means deliverance for His people that have been oppressed and persecuted by the anti-Christian power. He comes as King. He comes to claim His own. He comes to destroy His enemies. And He comes to save His people. That this is true is also plain from the fact that he sits on the white cloud. To come with the clouds always denotes that this Son of man is coming for judgment. We have become accustomed to the expression, and as soon as we hear or read it, we are thinking, and rightly so, of Christ coming as judge. The purity of the white cloud indicates that He will judge in righteousness and destroy the unrighteous. And the same idea of judgment is indicated by the sickle. He has come to cut down, for the sickle is sharp and is whetted to do the work. Hence, the Lord appears in this connection as the King-Judge.
But He is not alone.
In fact we receive the impression that He merely supervises and the work of reaping proper is left to the angels, His servants. That is also the impression we receive from other parts of Scripture. In Matthew 13:39Christ explains, at the close of the parable of the tares among the wheat: “The reapers are the angels.” And inMatthew 24:31 we read: “And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” So also the text here. It speaks of the angels as the servants of the Son of man. At least one of them that comes out of the temple and, therefore, out of the immediate presence of the Holy One, one of the angels that stand before God, acts as reaper in this scene. Two other angels act as messengers, and both proclaim that the time is ripe and that it is the exact hour for the harvest of the earth to be gathered in. One of them carries the command directly from God, and announces to the Son of man that it is time to reap, and that the hour is come for harvesting. This is not without significance. In the first place, we are given to understand that this is an important hour. The harvest must be gathered but not before it is fully ripe. It is a very significant hour indeed. All must be finished. And the Savior tells us that only God knows of this hour. Even He, as the Christ, does not know it. For thus He tells us: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.” And this He says in answer to the question of His disciples concerning the end of the world. Matt. 24:36. It is entirely in harmony with this idea, that in the vision the angel comes out of the temple of God and announces that the hour has now come, and that the reaping of the harvest may begin. The second angel brings a similar message to the angel that must gather the vines, the clusters of the vine of the earth. He comes out from the altar and has power over fire. Although, therefore, he brings a similar message as that of the first angel, his message must be considered from a different viewpoint. With the altar from which the angel proceeds we have become acquainted before. In the sixth chapter we read of it and there we heard how the cry for vengeance proceeded from under it, pressed from the souls of those that had been slain for the Word of God. And then they received the answer that they would have to wait a little while till also their brethren would have been slain for the same cause. Hence, that the angel proceeds from the altar with the message to reap tells us, that now all God’s people have been oppressed and have suffered from antichrist and that the time of vengeance has come. Also in the eighth chapter we read of this same altar, upon which the angels minister unto the prayers of the saints which are followed by judgments on the earth. The same idea, therefore, is again expressed here. The time of judgment, the time that the prayers of all the saints shall be heard, has now come. Hence, it is also said that this angel has power over fire, a symbol of the same truth, namely, that the reaping that is to be done is judgment and vengeance. We arrive, therefore, at this conclusion, first, that the harvest is symbolic, of judgment and vengeance and, secondly, that the reapers or harvesters are Christ and His servants, His angels.
Thus far all is rather simple and clear.
But a more difficult question we approach when we attempt to explain the harvest as such.
In order to understand the meaning of this harvest and vintage, it is well that we bear in mind that here there is no mention of the judgment proper, that is, of the public judgment before the throne of God, by which everyone will be rewarded according to his works. This impression might easily be received from the vision of the Son of man on the great white cloud. But this is not the case: We must not confuse things. There is a difference between the final judgment and the end of this dispensation. And it is only of the latter that this passage speaks. The world is to come to an end. History will reach a certain climax. The question is: how shall history reach its termination? How must we picture to ourselves the end of all history? You understand, of course, that it certainly is not proper to picture to ourselves this end of the world and of all history by a sudden appearance of Christ at any arbitrary moment to destroy His enemies and to deliver His Church. That may be easy to imagine but that is not in harmony with Scripture. What we must attempt to answer is the question: how shall the general course of history be thus that it leads and must lead to a climax and end? This question is, in a general way, answered in the words of our text. How shall these things be? How must I conceive of the general course of the history in this world that it must necessarily lead to the final catastrophe and to the coming of Christ? That this is, indeed, the idea of the text is plain from the figure of the harvest. In the parable of the tares among the wheat the Lord explains “the harvest is the end of the world.” But it stands to reason that the harvest must be ripe before that end can come. The end cannot come at any arbitrary moment. And hence the question must be answered: what is the course of the history of the world so as to lead necessarily to the end?
Besides, we must not entertain the false notion that “the day of the Lord” and the end of the world shall come in one moment, or even in one day. Such is often the conception we have of that “day of the Lord.” History shall continue very regularly and normally and there will be nothing special or extraordinary in that history of the world until of a sudden Christ comes and all will be ended, all in one moment, in the twinkling of an eye as it were. But this is, evidently, not the case. The harvest, the end of the world implies big things and great events. Some time may very well elapse before the harvest is finished. And the question is: in that period of the harvest of the world what shall be the order of events? How must we conceive of the end of the world? Of course, this would be an idle and vain question if Scripture did not reveal anything about this. But now it is different. The Bible certainly does reveal to us something about the order of events in this great day of the Lord. And also the passage we are now discussing gives us at least a general indication of the order of the events that then shall take place.