After the seven seals and the seven trumpets and before the seven bowls we have the seven signs. The seven seals were about all the woes and troubles which happen in the world in these, the last days, while we wait for the coming of the Lord and that great and terrible Day of Judgment when the wicked will be destroyed. The seven trumpets announced how the Lord punishes the wicked with all kinds of temporal punishments in these, the last days while we wait for the coming of the Lord and that great and terrible Day of Judgment when the wicked will be destroyed.
And the seven signs were about how the dragon persecutes the church in these, the last days. Moreover while the world is led astray by the beasts, who have set themselves up in opposition to the Lamb of God, John sees the church triumphant in heaven, singing a new song of praise to God who has redeemed them by the blood of the Lamb. And whereas the three angels announced the coming judgment on the wicked, John was re-assured that those who die in the Lord are blessed for they will rest from their labours in the presence of the Lord.
So, after the seven seals and the seven trumpets we have the seven signs. And today we come to the sixth and seventh signs: the sixth is the harvest of the earth; and in the seventh, John saw the saints in heaven, singing a song of victory.
Verses 14 to 6
And so, we turn to verses 14 to 20 of chapter 14 and the harvest of the earth. And, of course, John describes two harvests here: first of all, he describes a harvest of grain; and secondly, he describes a harvest of grapes.
I’ve said before that someone (Sinclair Ferguson) has said that if you want to know with confidence what the book of Revelation is about, read one commentary. If you read that one commentary, the commentator will answer all your questions and you’ll know for sure what the book of Revelation is about. So, if you want to know with confidence what the book of Revelation is about, read that one commentary. Why only one? Because if you pick up a second commentary, you’ll find that that second commentator interprets the book in an entirely different way; and you’re left thinking to youself:
I used to be sure. Now I’m not so sure. Which commentator is right?
Some commentators suggest that the two harvests which we read about here represent the same thing, while other commentators suggest that the two harvests which we read about here represent two different things. Some say that the two harvests represent how God will one day gather the wicked to be punished. And since their punishment is so certain and since it will be so terrible, it’s described twice. However, other commentators — and this is the view I prefer — say that the first harvest represents how God will one day gather his people to bring them into their eternal reward; and the second harvest represents how God will one day gather the wicked to be punished. So, the harvest of the grain represents the gathering of God’s people to eternal life; the harvest of the grapes represents the gathering of the wicked to eternal punishment.
So, let’s look at the details. In verse 14, John tells us that he saw a white cloud; and, of course, clouds in the Bible are often associated with the presence of the Lord. For instance, when God came down to Mount Sinai to meet the Israelites in the days of Moses, he came down to them in a cloud. And seated on this cloud, which John saw, was ‘one like a son of man’. Well, there’s a reference to Daniel 7 where Daniel saw ‘one like a son of man’, coming with the clouds of heaven, who came into the presence of the Lord God Almighty to receive an everlasting kingdom. Who was the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision and who is the Son of Man in John’s vision? Well, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ; and just as he went up through the clouds to heaven after his resurrection from the dead, so he will come again one day, with the clouds. And look: there’s a crown on his head; not the crown of thorns which represented his suffering and humiliation, but a crown of gold to represent his glory and power and authority. And there’s a sharp sickle in his hands which he will use to reap the harvest when the time is right.
Do you remember in the gospels how the Lord made clear in Mark 13 that no one knows the day or the hour when the end will come, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. The Son of God does not know when the end will come. And so, it’s no surprise to read in verse 15 how an angel had to come out of the temple, where God the Father dwells, in order to tell the Lord Jesus that the time had arrived. We can imagine God the Father saying to one of his angels to go and tell the Son that the time has come and the harvest is ripe and it’s ready to be harvested. And so, in verse 16, we read how the Lord Jesus took the sickle and swung it over the earth to harvest the earth.
Why do we think this describes the gathering of the righteous to eternal life? Well, there are a number of reasons, but let me mention just one. And it’s this: normally in the Bible, reaping and harvesting grain and wheat signifies the salvation of God’s people. For instance, in Matthew 3, when John the Baptist was talking about the Lord Jesus, he said that the Lord’s winnowing fork will be in his hand and he will gather the wheat into the barn, whereas he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Gathering the reap signifies the gathering of God’s people for eternal life, whereas burning the chaff signifies the punishment of the wicked. Or think of Matthew 13 and the parable of the wheat and the weeds: they’re allowed to grow together until the time of the harvest, when the wheat is gathered together and brought into the barn whereas the weeds are burned. The harvesting of the wheat refers to the salvation of God’s people, whereas the burning of the weeds refers to the punishment of the wicked. Reaping and harvesting wheat and grain refers to how the Lord Jesus will gather his people at the end of the age in order to bring them in to eternal life. That’s what John sees here in verses 14 to 16.
Verses 17 to 20
And then, in verses 17 to 20, we have the gathering of grapes which are afterwards crushed. So, John sees an angel in verse 17 who also came out of the temple; he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel, who was in charge of the fire — and fire often signifies judgment — came from the altar and called to the angel with the sickle to gather the grapes of the earth, because they’re ripe. And the angel swung his sickle and gathered the grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. Now, remember this is a vision, using pictures and images and symbols. And so, we’re not to think that there’s a great winepress in heaven; John’s vision is conveying to us the idea of God’s wrath and the punishment he will inflict on the wicked who have refused to believe in his Son or to seek forgiveness from him for their sins. They will be thrown into the great winepress of God’s wrath where they will be trampled, just as grapes are trampled in a winepress.
And where is this taking place? Outside the city. Do you see that in verse 20? The city is the holy city, the heavenly city, where God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord. So, the Lord’s people are in the city, whereas the wicked are bring punished outside the city.
And whereas you would see the red juice of grapes flowing from out of a normal winepress, John sees, not red juice, but red blood flowing out of this press, again to signify the suffering and the punishment of the wicked. And there is so much blood that it rises as high as the bridle on a horse. Wherever you look, the land is submerged under the blood of the wicked.
So, the sixth sign which John saw depicts how the Lord Jesus Christ will gather his people together to enjoy eternal life, whereas the wicked are gathered together in order to be punished.
Verses 1 to 4
And so, we come to the seventh sign. Now the seventh sign is not the seven angels with seven last plagues which he mentions in verse 1. We’ll come back to them the next time. The seventh sign is recorded for us in verses 2 to 4 where John tells us how he saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire; and, standing beside the sea, are those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. So, these are the Lord’s people who stood firm in the faith and who refused to follow the beast despite all the persecution they suffered because of their faith. And now, in John’s vision, he sees them, standing by the sea; and in their hands, are harps which God has given to them; and with their harps, they sang the song of Moses.
This scene might seem familiar to you, because whenever the Israelites were brought safely through the Red Sea in the days of Moses, the Lord let the water flow back into place so that the Egyptian soldiers were drowned and not one of them survived. And at that time, the Israelites stood beside the sea, and Moses and the Israelites began to sing a song of victory:
I will sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God and I will praise him.
At that time, God’s people sang the song of Moses. Here in Revelation 15, John sees the Lord’s people who are standing by the sea, and they are also singing the song of Moses. But it’s not only the song of Moses; it’s also the song of the Lamb, because, just as in the past God sent Moses to deliver his people from their enemies, so he has sent Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to deliver us from sin and death and Satan. And so, this is a song of victory:
Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
Who will not fear and worship you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.
Everything the Lord does is great and marvellous. Everything he does is just and right. He deserves all our praise and worship, because he alone is holy. And so, men and women and boys and girls from every nation will come together in heaven to worship the Lord who has done what is right by pardoning his people who have trusted in Christ who died for them; and by punishing the wicked who have broken his laws and commandments. Just as the Lord destroyed the Egyptians and delivered his people in the days of Moses, so in the end, in the end, he will destroy all his enemies who refused to repent of their wickedness, and he will deliver his people who have trusted in the Lamb of God.
So, just as the seven seals ended with the judgment of the wicked and the salvation of God’s people; and just as the seven trumpets ended with the judgment of the wicked and the salvation of God’s people; so the seven signs end with the judgment of the wicked and the salvation of God’s people.
In these, the last days in which we live, the church is both protected and persecuted: protected by God so that our salvation is kept secure and persecuted by the Devil and all who are on his side. But instead of giving in and giving up the faith because of the opposition we face, the Lord’s people are to persevere in the faith and we’re not to give in, because in the end, the church militant on earth will become the church triumphant in heaven; and together we’ll join our voices to sing a new song of praise to our God and to the Lamb who has done great and marvellous things to save us and to give us everlasting peace and joy in his presence. And though it might seem to us — when we fix our eyes on what is seen and temporary instead of fixing our eyes on what is unseen and eternal — though it may seem that the Devil is winning, and the church is in retreat, nevertheless the truth is that the Lord is in control; and in the end, we will see the triumph of the Lamb.