The Grapes of Wrath (Rev. 14:12-20)
In his novel The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck brilliantly portrayed the consequences of the suffering people endured during the Dust Bowl migration. Their suffering was building in them a fury of wrath that would eventually explode. Essentially, he was suggesting that anger and hatred are the natural byproduct of oppressive experiences. He certainly has a point.
However, one thing is clear, he was not using the metaphor in the same way that Scripture used it. He got the concept of ripened grapes and wrath from this passage. But what caused those grapes to ripen was not oppression. It is the rebellion of creation against the Creator that has hastened the arrival of the final harvest. And the wrath that is about to be unleashed is not the anger of men, but of God.
This comes at the close of another cycle that has covered the whole “Gospel Age”.
- Seven Churches (1-3) Call to Persevere
- Seven Seals (4-7) depiction of final judgment (6:15-17)
- Seven Trumpets (8-11) depiction of final judgment (11:18)
- Spiritual Conflict (12-14) depiction of final judgment (14:17-20)
The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet have successfully promoted a counterfeit worship that has been gathering more and more people, and ripening fast for the day of the great harvest. But, before we get to that final section, I’m going to cover verses 12-13 since I didn’t get to those in last week’s sermon. It is structurally part of the previous section beginning in verse 6 regarding the comfort of the gospel.
Read Rev. 14:12-20
A Promise of Blessing (12-13)
After hearing about the terrifying reality that awaits those who worship the beast, the vision transitions to the eternal reward of all true believers. Those who refuse to worship the beast, but worship God through Christ share in his inheritance.
The saints are called to endure in their Christian faith (12). They are the saints who keep the commandments of God because they have been given the Spirit of God who enables them to honor God in their lives. This vision of the coming judgment of unbelievers helps saints to persevere. In due time they will see God’s name vindicated and enter into their own rest.
John was commanded to write down the blessing of dying in the Lord (13). Dying in the Lord is a blessing because it brings rest and reward. Rather than experiencing everlasting torment and restlessness, saints enter into their everlasting joy and rest. Rest is related to “their labors” which is also connected to “their deeds”.
They will finally enjoy true rest. Those activities which exhaust them now, are no longer required in heaven. Endurance will be unnecessary! They have fought the good fight! They have finished the race! They have kept the faith! They have received the crown of life!
But what does the Spirit mean by “their deeds follow them”? This is connected to their enjoyment of rest. This seems to indicate a variety of rewards based upon our good works. Our works in no way merit salvation. Only the finished work of Christ can satisfy the righteous demands of the law. And no one will be unsatisfied with their rewards, as if they could be envious of the brightness of their peers.
Phillips Our works earn not the reward of eternal life, but rather rewards in eternal life.
These are the treasures of heaven that we should be living for rather than the decaying treasures of this world (Matt. 6:20). While all believers will shine like stars in glory, some stars will shine brighter (1 Cor. 15:41-42). Jesus’ parables speak of varying levels of rewards (Matt. 25:21; Lk. 19:12-19). There is a personal reward for personal labor that is given in unequal measures to all the elect (1 Cor. 3:8).
Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of God (2 Cor. 5:10). Anyone whose work survives God’s fire test will receive a reward and those whose work is burned up will still be saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:14).
We experience encouragement, comfort, and peace in life because of our faith (2 Cor. 1:3-6). But, the greatest evidence of the superior comfort of believers is found at death. What proves to be a terrifying for the unbeliever is filled with peace for the believer. The death of believers is “precious in the sight of the Lord” (Psa. 116:15). When they depart their body, they are immediately at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
This is only true for those who “die in the Lord”. Eternal joy is offered to those who come to the Lord in faith. Your present suffering, labor, and deeds of faith will increase your enjoyment of rest and rewards in heaven.
Those who respond to the free invitation of the gospel in this life will be gathered as…
The Grain of Harvest (14-16)
John sees “one like a son of man”, seated on a cloud, wearing a golden crown, and carrying a sickle (14). The description reminds us of John’s opening vision of Jesus prepared for judgment (1:7, 13; Dan. 7:13). Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of man” 79x in the gospels. Saints are anticipating his return in the same fashion in which he ascended, with the clouds (Acts 1:11).
The harvest is generally used in a positive way in Scripture, but not always. It is the celebration of God’s provision and the praise His goodness. It was frequently used metaphorically, especially in the New Testament (evangelizing laborers Mt. 9:37-38; reaping the rewards of sowing good Gal. 6:9).
Two harvests are described here. Ripened grain is gathered in the first (14-16), while ripened grapes are gathered and trampled in the second (17-20). The first harvest is positive and the second is negative. Grain harvest is one-stage which is positive, rather than the two-stage process of winnowing/threshing which would imply judgment. The grape harvest includes both stages: gathering and treading.
Another angel (following the three previously mentioned in vv.6-13) comes out of the temple to inform the one seated on a cloud that the harvest is ripe for reaping (15). “Fully ripe” (ξηραίνω) is a reference to grain that has “dried out” and is ready for harvest. This is a different term than the grapes that are “ripe” (ἀκμάζω) in verse 18.
Some have questioned whether the “son of man” is a reference to Jesus since it appears this angel is giving him a command. There is no indication that this angel has authority over Christ. Angels do not announce or command of their own will. They are divine messengers. So this angel is declaring a message from God the Father to God the Son. The angel is announcing the Father’s will for the Son to begin the final harvest.
This is consistent with the teaching of Jesus that he does not know the day or the hour of his return (Mk. 13:32). The illustration is one of the Son waiting patiently, looking over his creation, anticipating the moment he will gather up his people. And he does so with one swift swing of his sickle, reaping the whole earth (16).
Jesus doesn’t know the timing of his return, but he waits with patience to gather up his bride. His voluntary lack of knowledge on this emphasizes our own need to remain ready at all times! We should heed the warning of Christ’s parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). The five foolish virgins did not bring extra oil to keep their lamp lit, and the bridegroom returned when they were fetching more oil.
We can see this call for patient endurance with regard to the harvest language as well. We are to plow, plant, water, fertilize, cultivate, and prune until the day of harvest. These activities do not yield quick results, but they reward the patient laborer. Like Paul, we long for the day of rest (Phil. 1:23), but until then…we hold fast to the word of life so that our labor is not in vain (Phil. 2:16).
The second harvest refers to unbelievers as…
The Grapes of Wrath (17-20)
Another angel exits the heavenly temple with a sickle (17). Angels assisted in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were involved in the judgment of Egypt and Assyria. They repeatedly served God by bringing judgment upon Israel (i.e., golden calf, David’s unauthorized census). An angel struck down Herod Antipas (Acts 12:23). God utilizes angels in warning, announcing, and enacting the Final Judgment. Jesus repeatedly promised this very thing (Mt. 13:37-41; 16:27; Mk. 8:38).
Another angel comes from the altar (18). John indicates it is a familiar angel—the one who had authority over the fire. This is the angel who received the smoke of incense that represented the prayer of the saints and who takes the fire from the altar and hurls it upon the earth (6:9-11; 8:3-5). This angel informs the other angel to gather the cluster of ripe grapes.
Joel 3:13 points forward to this day of wrath mentioning the ripe harvest, the reaping with a sickle, and the winepress. There, as here, the context is clearly one of judgment upon evil. An ancient winepress was typically made out of rock or brick. Grapes were trampled in an upper trough. Juice flowed down channels to a lower basin. This portrays the terrifying vision of God’s wrath, which is reminiscent of Isaiah’s graphic vision of that day (Isa. 63:3-4).
Like Christ, this angel swings his sickle and gathers the grape harvest, throwing them into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (19). As the winepress is trodden (always a reference to judgment), a river of blood pours from the winepress that is roughly four feet high and 184 miles long (20). This astronomical number likely refers to the whole world. The square of 4 (earth) times the square of 10 (totality). Blood flows in every direction covering every square inch of the world.
This is the punishment that every sin deserves. If we shared God’s revulsion of sin we would not be so taken aback by the idea of his wrath. Even a single sin against a perfectly holy God is deserving of his eternal punishment.
God deals with sin at two times and in two locations. His wrath for sin was poured out upon His Son on the hill of Calvary, and it will be poured out for all eternity upon those in Hell.
The world seems to be ripe for harvest. We must always be ready. Repent before the day of the great harvest of the earth arrives! Repentance is available now, but that last day will be filled with the sovereign display of God’s power in judgment.
Those who refuse to repent and turn to Christ will be gathered up and thrown into the winepress. They will be trampled “outside the city”. But here’s the thing. Jesus already suffered under the wrath of God “outside the gate” of the city (Heb. 13:12). Judgment has already occurred there for all who are united to Christ in his death. Jesus was crucified outside the city, bearing the curse and shame of our sin.
Hughes It was there that he gave himself to be trodden in the great winepress of the wrath of God, bearing our sins and absorbing their punishments so that we might be clothed with his pure and holy righteousness.
Jesus was cast outside the city and trampled by the wrath of God on behalf of all who place their faith in him!
We are enabled to heed the warning, repent, and persevere because Christ took our place on the cross and bore the wrath of God on our behalf. Because we died with him we can also live for him.