In the third vision of chapter 14, we finally have a depiction of the end-time coming of the “Son of Man” —that is, the return of the exalted Jesus to earth. It had been foreshadowed at several points, including a more direct reference at the beginning of the book (1:7, cf. the note there), but is now described in a vision for the first time. The coming of the Son of Man ushers in the great Judgment, the event being presented here using harvest imagery (introduced in verse 4, cf. the prior note). The harvest marks the end of the growing season, and so serves as a suitable eschatological motif—i.e., for the end of the current Age. The basic act of harvesting—the cutting—is itself an ambiguous symbol. On the one hand, it provides life-giving and sustaining food for the community, and is thus a positive symbol of life. On the other hand, it can be seen as an act of violence, the menacing image of swinging a sharp and dangerous tool, cutting off the life of what has been growing out of the earth.
Both aspects are combined in the use of the harvest as an image of the end-time Judgment, already well-established in early Christian tradition by the time the book of Revelation was written, largely by way of the sayings/parables of Jesus, as well as earlier in the Old Testament Prophets (Joel 3:13ff [cf. below]; Jer 50:16; 51:33; Matt 3:12 par; Mark 4:29; Matt 13:30, 39; cf. also Luke 10:2 par; Jn 4:35, where the eschatological aspect of Jesus’ statements are often overlooked). Here, in Rev 14:14-20, two kinds of harvest are depicted: the grain harvest (vv. 14-16), and the grape harvest (vv. 17-20). They symbolize two aspects of the time of the Judgment, respectively—the salvation of believers and the punishment of the wicked.
Verses 14-16: The Grain Harvest
“And I saw, and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting ‘(one) like a son of man’, holding upon his head a gold wreath and upon his hand a sharp plucking-tool [i.e. sickle]. And another Messenger came out of the shrine, crying out in a great voice to the (one) sitting upon the cloud: ‘You must send (out) your plucking-tool and reap (the summer crop), (in) that [i.e. because] the hour to reap (has) come, (in) that the summer crop of the earth is dried out (for) reaping!’ And the (one) sitting upon the cloud cast his plucking-tool upon the earth, and the (summer crop of the) earth was reaped.”
I have utilizing both “summer crop” and “reap(ing)” in English to convey the fundamental meaning of the verb qeri/zw and related noun qerismo/$. (i.e. the heat of late-summer as the time for reaping). The figure sitting on the cloud, and depicted as the harvester (in that he holds a sickle, dre/panon, plucking/cutting-tool), is identified by way of an allusion (in Greek) to the expression in Daniel 7:13: “one like a son of man” (o%moio$ ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou). The Daniel reference is the basis for the expression “Son of Man” as the name for an eschatological (and Messianic) figure—a heavenly redeemer figure-type who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and bring about the Judgment. Jesus uses the same expression as a self-reference in many sayings, and, in his eschatological “Son of Man” sayings, identifies himself with the heavenly-deliverer who is to appear at the time of Judgment. For more on this, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, the supplementary note on Dan 7:13-14, the earlier article in this series on the eschatological sayings, as well as the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus as a whole. The clearest allusion to Daniel 7 is found in two key Synoptic sayings: Mark 13:26-27 par (part of the Eschatological Discourse) and Mark 14:62 par (the Sanhedrin ‘trial’ scene); it is echoed again in Acts 7:55-56, and is part of the imagery surrounding Jesus’ expected return (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7).
Verse 15 brings certain eschatological details into view; we may note these as follows:
- The association of heavenly Messengers (Angels, a&ggeloi) with the Son of Man figure. In many of the eschatological sayings of the Jesus, the “Son of Man” is said to appear from heaven together with these Messengers—Mark 8:38 par; 13:26-27 par; Matt 13:39-41ff; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also John 1:51.
- The image of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$). In the book of Revelation, the Temple is primarily a heavenly symbol, representing the dwelling place of God, but also as a gathering place for the People of God (in their heavenly aspect)—cf. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 16:1, 17. Only in 11:1-2 is the Temple (and its sanctuary) used in reference to the People of God in their earthly aspect (i.e. believers on earth). Here the Messenger comes out of the sanctuary, i.e. from God’s presence, to address the Son of Man.
- The harvest imagery is specifically associated with the Judgment, by way of an apparent allusion to Joel 3:13 (cf. below).
Some may find it strange that a Messenger (Angel) here commands the exalted Jesus (Son of Man) to act (imperative “You must…”). However, this simply reflects the fundamental (and sometimes forgotten) meaning of an a&ggelo$ as a messenger—that is, one who conveys a message from God the Father. Here this describes God the Father informing Jesus (the Son) that the time has come to act. It may also reflect the situation in the difficult Synoptic saying of Mark 13:32 par, where Jesus indicates that only the Father (and not the Son) knows just when the moment of the end will occur (cf. also Acts 1:7; 17:31 for this as a time specifically set by God).
The grain harvest, depicted in vv. 15-16, as a symbol has two main points of signification: (1) that the end-time Judgment is begun by Jesus (the Son of Man) at his return, and (2) that it refers primarily to the salvation/deliverance of believers. Generally such harvest-imagery in the New Testament refers to the gathering of believers, and is thus a positive image (of salvation)—cf. Matt 9:37-38; Mark 4:29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38. Only in the process of threshing—separating grain from chaff (i.e. the righteous from the wicked)—does the negative aspect (of condemnation/punishment) enter in (Matt 3:12 par; 13:40-42). Here the punishment side of the Judgment is reserved for the scene of the grape harvest (vv. 17-20), drawing heavenly upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, especially the oracle in Joel 3:9-16. This will be discussed in the next daily note.
It is worth noting that it is Jesus (the Son of Man) himself who performs the grain harvest, but the grape harvest is left to a heavenly Messenger (Angel). This probably reflects the close connection between the personal return of Jesus and the gathering of the elect (believers) specifically. This is certainly the point of emphasis both in the original Gospel tradition of Mark 13:26-27 par (even though Angels oversee the gathering), as well as Paul’s exposition in 1 Thess 4:15-17 (cf. also 1:10; 2 Thess 2:1, etc). The separation of the righteous from the wicked, thereby consigning the latter for judgment/punishment, is seen as the activity of the Angels in Matt 13:39-49. Here, too, in the book of Revelation, it is the heavenly Messengers who unleash the Judgment upon the earth in the Trumpet- and Bowl-visions.