Revenge is not a topic with which we are comfortable. But, today's text deals with the vengeance of God as well as His reward.
It is, thankfully, the beginning of the final judgments!
And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. Revelation 15:1
The plagues are indicated in this text (14.14-20), and then detailed in chapters 15-16. They are delivered by seven more angels.
John is an old man at this point; his mind is so saturated with the Scriptures that he can hardly utter a sentence without traces of Moses and the prophets winding their way through like tendrils from a grapevine. The picture of the harvest evokes images in John's minds-eye:
Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread the grapes, for the winepress is full. The storage vats are overflowing with the wickedness of these people.” Joel 3:13 (NLT)
The text pictures two harvests – grain and grape. They parallel the judgment of rewards (bema seat for the raptured saints), and the judgment of revenge (bummer for the ruptured unbelievers).
Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was someone like the Son of Man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came from the Temple and shouted to the one sitting on the cloud, “Swing the sickle, for the time of harvest has come; the crop on earth is ripe.” So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested. Revelation 14:14-16 (NLT)
Many passages in the Scriptures may have some degree of difficulty concerning interpretation. I don’t think this is one of them! (That is not to suggest arrogance, or claim special revelation; there are just so many telling references that the passage seems to cry out about itself.)
Moody Bible Institute's past president George Sweeting told about a student who was befuddled when his professor spoke about the pre-millennial view, and the pre-tribulation rapture, and the mid-tribulation, and the post-tribulation rapture; finally the student was in despair. He folded his arms, sat down, and said, I.A.K.. And the professor said, What does that mean? The student said, That means I am confused. The professor said, Confused doesn't start with a 'K'. The student replied, You don't know how confused I am.
This passage is about the coming of Christ, and the final judgments. Chicago's Rabbi Eckstein says that with all of the climactic ferment, epi-centered in the Middle East, it seems to him to be Messianic times. And if this is it, if the Messiah appears, rabbi Eckstein says that he can't wait to ask Him one question: Is this your second visit or your first?
There is no apology needed to say This is the second! And LAST!! Henceforth Jesus will no longer be a visitor in a place where the Prince of Darkness has his dominion. Jesus is coming back to claim His rightful place as Lord over the entire universe.
The sickle, or hook, is a tool of harvesting. The scene has an angel emerging from before the throne of God in heaven. He tells another angel, the time is now; begin the harvest. The angel receives the message and begins the harvest; we call it Armageddon, that last and final battle.
This harvesting activity is a picture of the grain harvest. In Matthew 13 Jesus told the parable of wheat and tares. The darnel (tares) is false wheat, actually weed. What we have is a picture of genuine believers and false professors. This harvest separates the wheat from the weeds. Many see this as reflecting the imagery of rapture – the wheat being taken from the earth is believers being reunited with Christ and loved ones.
The primary lesson we learn here is that not all judgment is to be feared. Any true believer identifies with this judgment as good. In a sense there is a lack of patience on the part of Christians everywhere for the second coming. The Bride of Christ longs for her husband. This separation is a time when the wheat will be taken to God's home.
The grain harvest also shows how those who have rejected Jesus Christ in this world have no place in God’s rewards for believers. This should hold no terror for the child of God!
But it should make anyone who has not accepted Christ’s salvation consider carefully what he is waiting for
….because the Scripture then tells us what unbelievers are waiting for:
After that, another angel came from the Temple in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, who had power to destroy with fire, came from the altar. He shouted to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. Revelation 14:17-20 (NLT)
Revenge is not a Christian thing; rather it is a Divine Prerogative!
…“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Romans 12:19b (NLT)
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 (NLT)
We learn in this passage about the vengeance of God on His enemies:
The Day of God’s Vengeance
God's character demands justice and judgment. That does damage to some people's view of God. There is a common misunderstanding that a God of love would/could never judge and condemn unbelievers.
That is entirely untrue to the character of a holy and just God. One preacher/scholar put it this way: I believe in a God of absolute and unbounded love, therefore I believe in a loving anger of his which will and must devour and destroy all that is decayed, monstrous, abortive in the universe.
The day of vengeance is not something which appears without ample warning and remedy. Just as in the fullness of time God sent His son to save us from our sins, it is also on the record that God never takes revenge until He has exhausted every avenue of getting our attention and allowing for repentance. The harvest is only accomplished after a long season of planting, watering and waiting.
The Disaster of God’s Vengeance
The idea of God’s winepress of wrath is not unfamiliar to people in the Middle East. The prophets predicted this great slaughter of the final battle.
“I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes. Isaiah 63:3 (NLT)
Come here and listen, O nations of the earth. Let the world and everything in it hear my words. For the LORD is enraged against the nations. His fury is against all their armies. He will completely destroy them, dooming them to slaughter. Their dead will be left unburied, and the stench of rotting bodies will fill the land. The mountains will flow with their blood. Isaiah 34:1 – 3(NLT)
The prophet Nahum describes in one passage both the fairness, and the finality of the Lord's Day of Vengeance:
The LORD is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished….Who can stand before his fierce anger? Who can survive his burning fury? His rage blazes forth like fire, and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. Nahum 1:3 - 6 (NLT)
John wrote in Revelation(14.20) that the blood would flow along as deep as a horse's bridle, and 18 miles. This is roughly the distance from North to South (Dan to Beersheba) in Palestine. This may not be literal, but signifying the completeness of the judgment. It begins at Armageddon and sweeps throughout the land. There is no one who could stand in that day of the Lord's vengeance!
An explanation without an application (how to bring this into our everyday lives) is a waste of time.
Considering the harvests of reward and revenge, what do we do today that will make a positive difference in how we spend eternity? I believe that there are at least two ways this text impacts our living:
We must be careful that we keep an accurate perspective of the real Jesus always. Some people have a notion that He is a milquetoast doormat – kindly waiting for Little Bo Peep's sheep to come home.
Rather, my friends, remember the picture of a gigantic holy combine, able to harvest the entire earth with one swipe of the sickle. And when He does, the blood will run so high horses in the entire land will drown in the deluge.
The first time He came as a babe willing to shed His own blood. The next time He will be ticked, and ready to do a little more shedding – but this time it will not His own blood!
Christians (especially professional types like evangelists and pastors) have a propensity for counting the nickels and noses. We want to add up all the decisions and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
As we have seen in the text today, harvesting is not our area of responsibility – sowing is!
Let's reserve our judgments about the results of Christian ministry, and the decisions. They will be judged in eternity by someone who is qualified.
Rather, let us concentrate on planting genuine seed, watering with the pure milk of the word, and living in a manner that will please the Lord. Then it won't make a difference when He comes.