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Would you please explain Revelation 14:14-20?

Revelation 14:14-16 reads:

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.”

Revelation 14:17-20 continues:

“Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’ So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.”

There are different challenges with the understanding of these passages, and commentaries are deeply divided in several respects.

First, who is the personage in verse 14, sitting on the cloud “like the Son of Man”?

Please note that according to the Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament, the literal rendering says: “… on the cloud sat one like a son of man.” The NIV states it this way: “I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” The Philips New Testament Translation simply says: “…with someone sitting upon the cloud with the appearance of a man.”

The term “son of man” is used many times throughout the Bible for ordinary human beings and could also refer to either Christ or an angel, resembling, in form and shape, a human being (note for example Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12).

In rendering it, as the New King James Bible does, as “One like THE Son of Man,” and capitalizing the nouns and pronouns throughout the passage in relationship to the personage sitting on the cloud, the impression is given that this must be a reference to Jesus Christ. But this is an interpretation, even though most commentaries conclude this to be the case. (On the other hand, Revelation 1:13 clearly describes Jesus Christ where John sees “One like the Son of Man.” Still, the literal Greek says here as well “son of man…”, not “THE Son of Man.” Also compare Daniel 7:13.)

However, insofar as Revelation 14:14 is concerned, the designation of “a son of man” as describing Jesus Christ is not without problems, as we will see.

One problem is that IF this were talking about Jesus Christ, an angel would tell Him what to do. This obvious dilemma is attempted to be explained away in this manner:

Meyer’s NT Commentary says:

“In the first picture of the ripeness of the earth for judgment… it is the coming Judge himself who appears on a white cloud, with a sharp sickle in his hand… The description… allows us to think only of Christ himself, but could not mean an angel, who possibly represented Christ… Decisive is the solemn designation… [Also] the appearance on the cloud… and the golden crown indicating a special glory as victor, make the reference to Christ himself still more certain… the objection that Christ himself could not have received a command from an angel, is settled by the fact that the angel is only the bearer of the command coming from God.”

This is not convincing. Angels have golden crowns too (compare Revelation 4:4), and they sometimes are described as having the appearance of human beings (Daniel 8:15-16; 9:21; Ezekiel 40:3). And they too are at times pictured as appearing on clouds (Revelation 10:1). In addition, please note that after the “one like a son of man” is introduced, it continues to say that “ANOTHER angel came out of the temple…” Further, the returning Jesus Christ is being described as wearing many crowns, not just one (Revelation 19:12).

Still, Blunt, the Annotated Bible, gives a similar explanation as Meyer’s, quoted above, adding that the angel talking to the one on the cloud “‘came out of the temple’ and is thus represented as coming from the immediate Presence of God, bringing a message from the Father to the Son…”

The Nelson Study Bible agrees, stating:

“The reference to the Son of Man with a golden crown on His head indicates that the figure is Jesus Christ… Some, however, hesitate to make this identification, largely because another angel give the first figure the command to reap, which seems improper if ‘One like the Son of Man’ is Christ. Yet there is no impropriety in having a representative of God the Father entrust judgment to the Son of Man… the harvest of the earth is surely ripe for salvation… as well as judgment…”

The commentary continues, when speaking of verses 17 and 18:

“Another angel is placed in charge of the harvest of the clusters of grapes that are also ripe…”

The New Bible Commentary: Revised, states the following objections and gives this explanation:

“It is common to regard these verses (Revelation 14:14-16) as depicting the gathering of the church by Christ at His coming and vv. 18-20 as the gathering of the unbelieving world for judgment; it is possible that this is the true reading of the passage, especially in view of the use of the phrase, ‘one like a son of man’ in v. 14 (cf. 1:13). Yet it seems strange that Christ should be commanded by an angel to perform His saving work. His description, too, lacks the splendor of the visions of the Lord in 1:12f, and 19:11f. It seems better, accordingly, to regard the humanlike form as an angel, sharing something of the glory of Christ like the ‘mighty angel’ in 10:1… For the reaping of the earth by angelic instrumentality, cf. Mt. 13:41,42.”

It is indeed difficult to see how Christ would only be in charge of harvesting the faithful, while an angel would be in charge of harvesting the wicked (compare again Revelation 14:17-18). Rather, Christ would be in charge of both. Especially when it comes to the punishment of the wicked, we read, “He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Revelation 19:15). But He is using angels helping Him to carry out His Will.

Secondly, are there really TWO harvests described in Revelation 14, as suggested above? The assumption is stated in many commentaries that Revelation 14:14-16 describes the harvest of the saints, while Revelation 14:17-20 describes the harvest of the wicked ones.

For instance, Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, says:

“He [the one on the cloud] casts His sickle down to the earth, and the harvest of the saints is gathered (vv. 15f). Then the angel of the fire [Rev. 14:18]…calls for the gathering of the wicked for the winepress of God’s wrath…”

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary agrees, stating:

“The chapter concludes with two scenes that can occur only at the end of the age. The first (vv. 14-16) represents a harvest, a reaping of souls, and apparently a gathering in of the redeemed, to which our Lord refers in Mt 13:30, 39; 24:30, 31. There has been some dispute over these two scenes, but it seems to me that the second one, which is not a harvest but a vintage scene [beginning in verse 17], must depict the gathering of unbelieving and wicked ones of the earth. These are anticipatory paragraphs… ‘The Woman’s seed furnishes the Harvest, while the Dragon’s seed furnishes the Vintage.’ See also Joel 3:13.”

Halley’s Bible Handbook says: “‘Harvest’ seems to be of the Saved. The ‘Vintage’ of the Lost. The ‘winepress’ is of the Wrath of God on the Wicked.”

Unger’s Bible Handbook says:

“The figure of the harvest portrays judgment which separates the righteous from the wicked… The judge is the Son of Man… The judgment proceeds from the temple… The angels are the actual reapers … the Son of Man reaps through the instrumentality of the angels… The Vintage… is God’s wrath outpoured on sinners… The judgment of the wicked is fully ripe… unmitigated divine wrath falls upon sinners… and is executed ‘without the city’ (Jerusalem)… in the valley of Jehoshaphat… “

Other commentaries disagree and question whether two harvests or gatherings are described, while suggesting that only one harvest—that of the wicked—is discussed.

The Benson Commentary writes regarding Revelation 14:14-16:

“Namely, the appointed time of judgment, for which the world is ripe; the voices of the three warning angels, spoken of from Revelation 14:6-11, not having their due effect, it is here predicted that the judgments of God would overtake the followers and adherents of the beast, which judgments are represented in this paragraph under the figures of harvest and vintage, figures not unusual in the prophets, and copied particularly from the Prophet Joel…”

Benson adds the following comments regarding verses 17-20, alleging that the judgment of the wicked (which, according to Benson, is described in verses 14-16), continues in verse 17:

“‘And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven’ — As the former had done; ‘he also having a sharp sickle’ — To assist in this execution, and finish the destruction of the enemies of the truth…”

Lehman Strauss, The Book of the Revelation, agrees with Benson. He points out on pages 272-275, in referring to Revelation 14:14 and the following verses:

“This is a judgment scene. The Judge is about to sweep the earth clean of all evil… The harvest here is not the gathering of the good wheat into His garner as in Luke 3:17, but rather the tares which are the children of the wicked one as in Matthew 13:38-42… [Compare Jeremiah 51:33; Joel 3:11-16]… It is the ‘earth’ that is reaped [verse 16] because this is where men dwell and where they have perpetuated their evil works… the cup of iniquity is full, the harvest is ripe, and the time of God’s judgment has come…”

Thirdly, the question is as to WHEN, exactly, these events are to take place, and if one accepts the concept of TWO harvests, whether there is a time lapse between the two. Commentaries seem to be in agreement that there is no time lapse involved. All of this will occur at the same time, when Christ returns, and He returns only once, not twice. Even proponents of the [false] Rapture concept do not feel that Revelation 14:14 and the following verses give any credence to the idea of a time lapse. Nor do these passages support the false concept that Christ will come first to take the saints to the Third Heaven for the marriage supper, and then return with His saints to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Lehman Strauss, The Book of the Revelation, points out on page 259:

“In chapter 14 there is a series of seven separate visions, each complete in itself. They are disconnected pictures, however, and are not intended to present a chronological sequence of events… you have probably observed that from time to time [the Book of Revelation] sets forth in outline a panoramic view of things to come, and then… goes on later to fill in the details. Chronologically, the events in chapters 15 and 16 occur before the reaping and harvest visions in chapter 14. For example, in chapter 14, verse 8, a brief announcement, or vision, shows the judgment of Babylon, but her actual doom is described under the seventh vial of wrath and judgment in chapter 16, verses 17 to 21.”

God’s Church has understood for a long time that certain chapters in the book of Revelation are insert chapters, interrupting the chronological story flow. They might be flashbacks, going back in time to show certain developments in the past, leading to the events in the main story, or they may already introduce or announce events which will happen later and which will then be fully described in subsequent chapters. This is for instance true for chapters 12 and 13, and apparently also for chapter 14. The story flow continues in chapters 15 and 16, while being “interrupted” again in chapters 17 and 18. The 19th chapter shows us the second coming of Christ and the chronological flow continues in chapters 20, 21 and 22.

Even accepting the somewhat questionable concept that it is Christ [rather than an angel] who is described in Revelation 14:14-16, and also accepting the somewhat disputed scenario that two harvests or gatherings are described in Revelation 14 [the harvest of the good and the vintage of the evil], they still do not signify a time lapse, and they do not show that Christ would come back twice—first, to gather the saints by bringing them to the Third Heaven (a totally false concept), and second, by returning with the saints from the Third Heaven (a totally false concept as well) to punish the wicked.

Note 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, which reads:

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.”

There is not even a hint as to two comings of Christ and a time lapse between the glorification of the saints and the punishment of the wicked. Clearly, all of this will happen at exactly the same time.  Christ will return only once, not twice, at the time of the seventh or last trumpet (there can only be one last trumpet). Then, not before then, the dead in Christ will be resurrected to eternal life, and those in Christ who are still alive will be changed to immortality, while the wicked, following and being a part of the end-time Babylonian system, will be punished in that one day (Zechariah 14:4, 7).

Please read for further information the following Q&As:

“Does 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 teach a ‘secret rapture’?” 

“Would you please explain Mark 13:17?”

“Where will the marriage supper between Christ and His church be held?” 

Lead Writer: Norbert Link