The Harvest And The Vintage - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 36
14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
When we read these words, we are, of course, immediately reminded of the fact that this constitutes the close of the vision which was begun in Chapter 13. Taking Chapters 13 and 14 together, we found that they could not be separated; but they form one vision, a vision of the kingdom of Antichrist in its highest stage of development, and that both from the worldly point of view and from the point of view of heaven, of God and His Anointed.
The first vision, that of the beast with his seven heads and ten horns, pictured to us the kingdom of Antichrist from the political point of view and informed us that the kingdom would be universal, established by the voluntary consent of all nations and peoples and tribes of the earth. The central power of this kingdom has sway over all peoples and, at the same time, over all things, so that all are dependent upon the beast. And, in the second place, it pictured to us that final kingdom as being anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-kingdom, and anti-saints. All worship the beast. All admire this tremendous kingdom. But for the people of God there is no standing-room on the earth.
This last feature of the kingdom of Antichrist was pictured to us especially in the vision of the second beast, with his two horns like a lamb's and speech like the dragon. He, so we found, was a picture of the false prophet, of the influence of false philosophy and false religion. And we found that this beast succeeded in uniting the whole world under his creed. They all put stock in the words of this beast. He made them make an image. He gave them a sign. And only the worshippers of the beast and his image, who had the sign, could participate in the blessings of the kingdom of Antichrist, the rest not being able to buy or sell.
The third vision was that of the Lamb on Mount Zion, which, so we found, began to shed an entirely new light upon the scene of worldly power and iniquity and oppression and idolatry. If it seemed as if the kingdom of Antichrist was actually supreme and everlasting, this vision tells us a different story. It tells us that God Almighty never anointed the beast or the dragon to rule, but that He has His own King over Zion and that this King surely shall have control over all things. It tells us for that very reason that God in the heavens sits and laughs about all the efforts of the beast and Satan, and that God's people are perfectly safe. The one hundred forty-four thousand are all there, and not one is lacking.
The fourth vision was that of angels flying in mid heaven, each delivering his message for the kingdom of Antichrist, and of a voice speaking of joy to those who die in the Lord. The first angel announced, to the comfort of God's people, that God did not renounce His claim, but demanded as ever that every creature should bow before Him and worship Him as the God of heaven and earth. The second and third angels follow up this claim of the Almighty by announcing destruction upon the kingdom that rose against His sovereignty and upon the individual worshippers of the beast and his image. And, in conclusion, the voice spoke of joy and glory and rest for those who were subjected to tribulation and persecution in this dispensation because they refused to worship the beast.
Now we are at the close of the vision. The words of the passage quoted above take us to the end of time. Just as evidently the opening of the sixth seal in Chapter 6 took us to the close of all human history, so also does the passage we are about to discuss, though from a slightly different point of view and with fuller development of detail. Nevertheless, also what is recorded in these words will again be spoken of in future chapters. And the fall of Babylon, the great harlot, and the treading of the nations in the winepress of the wrath of God will all be developed and pictured to us in future chapters with greater vividness and in greater detail. And therefore, in our present chapter we must discuss in a general way the harvest and the vintage, or the end of the world.
It does not need a lengthy discussion to convince us that the harvester in this case, or at least he who supervises the reaping of the earth, is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. We read: "And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle." We are acquainted with the expression "one like unto the Son of man." We are so well acquainted with this expression that we can never fail to recognize Him Who bears this name. It is always used of Christ. It was the name with which Christ loved to call Himself. It denotes His all-overshadowing glory as the human servant of God. When John sees the vision of the seven golden candlesticks, he tells us that he also saw "in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a Son of man." And we know immediately who He is. In Daniel 7:13 we read of the same person: "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him." And therefore, there is no possibility of mistaking the identity of this person who holds the sharp sickle. He is the Son of Man, the Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, the Lamb Who was slain, the King of Zion anointed by the Almighty to have dominion over all. Besides, also His sitting on the white cloud would lead us to the same conclusion. To come with the clouds has already become a standing expression, and it denotes an honor which is bestowed only upon Christ Jesus. Before the high priest, Jesus already had witnessed: "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven," (Matthew 26:64). And also in the first part of this Book of Revelation the warning note was heard: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him," (Revelation 1:7). Hence, both of these expressions, "the Son of man" and "sitting on a white cloud," establish it beyond a shadow of doubt that here we have again a vision of Christ.
But how, in what capacity does He appear?
In the first place, it is plain that He reveals Himself here as King. He is the Lamb on Mount Zion and has been anointed by God to be king over all, and that forever. He must rule. He has gained His kingdom by obedience even unto the death of the cross and now has received a name which is above every name. As such He now appears. His appearance spells evil and destruction to the beast and his dominion. For that beast has attempted to gain the kingdom over all. All the dominion over which the beast apparently holds power belongs to this Son of Man on the cloud. That He appears here, therefore, while Antichrist rages, certainly can only mean destruction for the usurper. But, at the wine time, the appearance of the Son of man on the white cloud also means deliverance for His people who have been oppressed and persecuted by the antichristian power. He comes as King. He comes to claim His own. He comes to destroy His enemies, and He comes to save His people. That this is true is also plain from the fact that He sits on the white cloud. To come with the clouds always denotes that this Son of Man is coming for judgment. We have become accustomed to this expression; and as soon as we hear or read of it, we think, and rightly so, of Christ coming as Judge. The purity of the white cloud indicates that He will judge in righteousness and destroy the unrighteous. And the same idea of judgment is indicated by the sickle. He has come to cut down, for the sickle is sharp and is whetted to do the work. Hence, the Lord appears in this connection as the King-Judge.
But He is not alone.
In fact, we receive the impression that He merely supervises and that the work of reaping proper is left to the angels, His servants. That is also the impression we receive from other parts of Scripture. In Matthew 13:39 Christ explains, at the close of the parable of the tares among the wheat: "The reapers are the angels." And in Matthew 24:31 we read: "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Thus the text here also speaks of the angels as the servants of the Son of Man. At least one of them comes out of the temple, and therefore out of the immediate presence of the Holy One; one of the angels who stand before God acts as the reaper in this scene. Two other angels act as messengers, and both proclaim that the time is ripe and that it is the exact hour for the harvest of the earth to be gathered in. One of them carries the command directly from God; and he announces to the Son of Man that it is time to reap and that the hour is come for harvesting.
This is not without significance. In the first place, we are given to understand that this is an important hour. The harvest must be gathered, but not before it is fully ripe. It is a very significant hour indeed. All must be finished. And the Savior tells us that only God knows of this hour. Even He, as the Christ, does not know it. For thus He tells us, Matthew 24:36: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." And this He says in answer to the question of His disciples concerning the end of the world. It is entirely in harmony with this idea that in the vision the angel comes out of the temple of God and announces that the hour has now come and that the reaping of the harvest may begin.
The second angel brings a similar message to the angel who must gather the vintage, the clusters of the vine of the earth. He comes out from the altar and has power over fire. Although, therefore, he brings a similar message as that of the first angel, his message must be considered from a different viewpoint. With the altar from which the angel proceeds we have become acquainted before. In the sixth chapter we read of it; and there we heard how the cry for vengeance proceeded from under it, pressed from the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God. And then they received the answer that they would have to wait a little while, till also their brethren would have been slain for the same cause. Hence, the angel who proceeds from the altar with the message to reap tells us that now all God's people have been oppressed and have suffered from Antichrist and that the time of vengeance has come. Also in the eighth chapter we read of this same altar, upon which the angels minister unto the prayers of the saints which are followed by judgments on the earth. The same idea, therefore, is again expressed here. The time of judgment, the time that the prayers of all the saints shall be heard, has now come. Hence, it is also said that this angel has power over fire, a symbol of the same truth, namely, that the reaping which is to be done is judgment and vengeance. We arrive, therefore, at this conclusion: first, that the harvest is symbolic of judgment and vengeance; and, secondly, that the reapers or harvesters are Christ and His servants, His angels.
The Order Of The Harvest And The Vintage
Thus far all is rather simple and clear.
But a more difficult question we approach when we attempt to explain the harvest as such.
In order to understand the meaning of this harvest and vintage, it is well to bear in mind that here there is no mention of the judgment proper, that is, of the public judgment before the throne of God, by which everyone will be rewarded according to his works. This impression might easily be received from the vision of the Son of Man on the great white cloud. But this is not the case. We must not confuse things. There is a difference between the final judgment and the end of this dispensation. And it is only of the latter that this passage speaks. The world is to come to an end. History will reach a certain climax. The question is: how shall history reach its termination? How must we picture to ourselves the end of all history? You understand, of course, that it certainly is not proper to picture to ourselves this end of the world and of all history by a sudden appearance of Christ at any arbitrary moment to destroy His enemies and to deliver His church. That may be easy to imagine, but that is not in harmony with Scripture. What we must attempt to answer is the question: how shall the general course of history be so as to lead to a climax and end? This question is, in a general way, answered in the words of our text. How shall these things be? How must I conceive of the general course of the history of this world that it must necessarily lead to the final catastrophe and to the coming of Christ? That this is, indeed, the idea of the text is plain from the figure of the harvest. In the parable of the tares among the wheat the Lord explains that "the harvest is the end of the world." But it stands to reason that the harvest must be ripe before that end can come. The end cannot come at any arbitrary moment. Hence, the question must be answered: what is the course of the history of the world so as to lead necessarily to the end?
Besides, we must not entertain the false notion that the "day of the Lord" and the end of the world shall come in one moment, or even in one day. Such is often the conception we have of that "day of the Lord." History shall continue very regularly and normally, and there will be nothing special or extraordinary in that history of the world until of a sudden Christ comes; then all will be ended, all in one moment, in the twinkling of an eye as it were. But this is evidently not the case. The harvest, the end of the world implies big things and great events. Some time may very well elapse before the harvest is finished. And the question is: in that period of the harvest of the world what will be the order of events? How must we conceive of the end of the world? Of course, this would be an idle and vain question if Scripture did not reveal anything about this. But now it is different. The Bible certainly does reveal to us something about the order of events in this great day of the Lord. And also the passage now under discussion gives us at least a general indication of the order of the events which shall then take place.
First of all, I would say that our text gives us reason to believe that the elect of God, the church of Christ, will be taken up just before the end. I do not mean from the point of view of time, but rather that of order.
There is in our text a reference to a wheat harvest and a vintage, the gathering of grain and the cutting off of the clusters of the vine of the earth. Now there are interpreters who maintain that both these visions refer to the reaping of the wicked, to the worshippers of the beast and his image, and that there is no mention here at all of the removal of God's children from the earth. Naturally, many are forced to adopt this interpretation for the simple reason that they have caused the church to go to heaven at a much earlier period. But these interpreters fail to explain to us why the Lord in that case gives us two visions of such an entirely different nature. The first vision merely speaks of the reaping, but the second immediately leaves the impression of being a harvest of a different nature. In connection with it we read of the altar and of the angel who has power over fire, of the winepress of the wrath of God, and of the blood that reaches up to the horses' bridles. In a word, the first harvest leaves no impression of judgment and vengeance while the second does. Interpreters who refuse to make a distinction fail to explain the fact that we have nevertheless two visions of a different nature.
Besides, what we read elsewhere in Scripture gives us reason to maintain that in our text we have a reference to the gathering of God's people and of the wicked both. The wheat harvest generally is a symbol which refers to the gathering of God's people. In Luke 3:17 we hear John the Baptist testify of Jesus: "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner." True, the figure may be taken as referring to both God's people and the wicked, seeing that there is chaff among the wheat and that the tares have grown up among it. But the purpose of the wheat harvest is nevertheless the gathering of the wheat, not the gathering of the tares or of the chaff. And the gathering of the wheat is a symbol of the removal of God's people from the earth. So also the harvest of the wicked is more than once referred to in the Word of God as the cutting of the grapes and the gathering of them in the winepress, to be pressed and trodden. In Joel 3:13 we read: "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great." And in Isaiah 63:3 we have the vision of the man who cometh from Edom, with blood-stained garments from Bozrah, - a passage of Scripture which is so often erroneously quoted as referring to the suffering Servant of Jehovah. There we read: "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments." Evidently in both these passages we have a picture of the end of the wicked in the symbol of the winepress of the wrath of God. And therefore we may regard it as established that also in our text the distinction is made, and that in the first vision we have a picture of the removal of God's people from the earth, in the second a symbol of the end of the wicked power of Antichrist.
Secondly, we may remark that also this portion teaches us that the people of God shall be removed first. Their removal is mentioned first: the wheat harvest shall be gathered first of all. And although the fact that it is mentioned first in the vision does not at all establish beyond a doubt that thus it shall be in reality, other parts of the Word of God give us the same impression. In Chapter 11 of the Book of Revelation we found that the two witnesses, representing the church, after their three days of shame and suffering, when thev were as outcasts in the world, were called up to heaven and ascended thither. And in Matthew 24:22 the Lord says: "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Also this word gives us the same impression. Not history shall be shortened; but for the elect the days shall be shortened. That is, they shall be taken away first of all. Besides, this is practically in the nature of the case. The removal of the wicked shall be a scene of general destruction and upheaval. It shall be a scene in which the people of God may not participate for the simple reason that it is the manifestation of the wrath of God. Hence, they must be removed first. And so the order in which these two visions are given us is supported by other passages of the Word of God. The first harvest is the removal of the people of God. They shall be gathered by the holy angels from the four winds, and they shall leave the scene of their suffering and affliction to enter into glory.
To this, finally, may be added that also the events which are mentioned in Scripture as being typical of the harvest of the latter days corroborate this view. God sends the flood to destroy the wicked world; but that destruction of the world may not strike His own people. And therefore the destruction does not come till Noah and his people are separated in the ark. God means to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But again, there are people of God in that city. And the destruction that shall lay the city in ruins may not destroy the people of Jehovah. Hence, the destruction does not begin till Lot is led outside. So it shall be also in the time of the end. Two shall be in bed: the one shall be taken, and the other left. God's people must first be removed; and after they have been removed, the destruction of the wicked, the harvest of the grapes, may proceed.
We obtain therefore this conception of the future, that there shall be a period, - not very long, in fact, - but nevertheless a period in which there will be no more people of God in the earth. And it is this period which is utilized to end the existence of the wicked upon the earth. That this is meant by the vision of the vintage we have already shown. Let us notice in connection with the words of the passage we are now discussing that the reaping of the grapes is symbolic of the gathering of the nations into one place. The clusters of the earth, the various nations and peoples, must be cut, in order that they may be gathered into one place. Notice, in the second place, that the place where they are gathered is the winepress of the wrath of God, a place designated as being outside of the city. And notice, in the third place, that from this juncture the scene changes into one of battle and bloodshed. The grapes are pressed; and as they are pressed, blood comes out, so much that it reaches to the bridles of the horses, and that for sixteen hundred stadia, or furlongs. It is, therefore, a tremendous battle that is here pictured. The nations shall finally be gathered for battle, and such a battle as the world has never seen before shall be fought. The winepress of the wrath of God shall be trodden in that place.
The Reality Of The Harvest And Vintage
But the question is: how can we picture this in reality?
You will remember our explanation of Jerusalem and the temple in connection with Chapter 11. Then we said that the city of Jerusalem at large stood for nominal Christendom in its widest sense, that the outer court stood for the show-church, or the hypocrites in the church, and that only the holy place represented the true people of God. Now what has happened? Jerusalem, as nominal Christianity, still exists. The Christian world is still there, in distinction from heathendom. But it has become the kingdom of Antichrist. Jerusalem is Babylon, the center of the power which opposes the kingdom of God.
We must clearly grasp the situation. At the end of time nominal Christianity shall be antichristian. Jerusalem in the outward sense shall be Babylon in character. Still more, the people of God have been removed. The holy place is no more. And therefore, all that is left is outward Christianity, which is in reality the antichristian kingdom. That antichristian power is for a time lording it over all nations. The kingdom of Antichrist is universal. It is also supreme over those other nations which do not belong to the outward Christian world, the nations of heathendom, called Gog and Magog in Scripture. For a time all is well. Gog and Magog, the heathen nations, are ruled over by the outward Christian world, which is in reality antichristian, or outward Jerusalem, which is in reality Babylon. These nations are as yet not aroused, but they never become an integral part of that universal kingdom. They never embrace its cause. They never truly adopt its religion. They remain heathen. And therefore they stand diametrically opposed to the Christian world. For them the kingdom of Antichrist is still Christianity. And what has already become Babylon is still Jerusalem in the estimation of those nations. That is the situation. There is one universal kingdom. And in that one universal kingdom there is peace for a time, complete peace. But there are two elements in that kingdom nevertheless. In the first place, there is the element of the Christian world, of the civilized nations that have become antichristian. But, in the second place, there is also the element of the heathen nations, as, for instance, China and Japan and all that refuse to embrace the cause of Christianity. And they never become an integral part in the kingdom of Antichrist.
Now what shall happen in the future? Gog and Magog shall finally be aroused against the Christian nations in the outward sense. You must clearly understand the situation. There are no true Christians any more. No, they have been taken away from the earth. But outward Christianity, outward Jerusalem, still exists for a short time. And that outward Christianity, that nominal Jerusalem, which is in reality Antichrist and Babylon, shall be looked upon by these heathen nations as Christianity itself and as the real Jerusalem. And they shall be aroused. They shall say: "Let us go up to Jerusalem. Let us break loose from the bondage of the Christian nations and destroy them." They think that they strike at the people of Christ, which they hate. And they shall come against them. And thus the greatest, bloodiest battle of history shall ensue, although, I repeat, all this shall last but a little time in the history of the end. Antichrist shall prepare himself for the battle, shall beat the plowshares again into swords, and shall gather his armies. All the kingdom of Antichrist, all Babylon, shall gather together for the great battle. In their estimation this battle will be the last. It will wipe out heathendom. And the nations of heathendom will do the same. They shall gather their armies and prepare for the battle. And the place where they shall meet will be the winepress of the wrath of the Most High. It will be outside of the city, outside of nominal Jerusalem, outside of Babylon, outside of the Christian world, perhaps in the literal sense of the word. Terrible will be the bloodshed in that battle. In fact, the nations shall destroy one another, and the wrath of God shall tread upon them till they are destroyed completely. For the blood shall form a stream which denotes the completeness of their destruction. It will reach to the horses' bridles and will be sixteen hundred furlongs in length. Sixteen hundred evidently denotes the lifeblood of the world in its completeness. Four is the number of the world. Ten is the number of completeness. Sixteen hundred is forty times forty, and therefore denotes the lifeblood of the whole world. At the same time, the scene already pictured in the sixth trumpet shall be realized. It shall be a day of thick darkness. The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be changed into blood. Earthquakes and thunder shall add horror, till the entire power of Antichrist and Gog and Magog is actually destroyed.
Let me call your attention to the fact that this is in harmony with the Word of God in general. Isaiah pictures to us the same scene in Chapter 34 of his prophecy. There we read: "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness."
Or a still more vivid picture and graphic description of the last great battle is given in Joel 3:9-17: "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow: for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more."
The Time Of These Events
Such shall be the order of events. When shall all these things be?
Of course, no one knows the day and the hour. But nevertheless it may be said that the picture of the harvest is significant in this respect: it tells us that the harvest must be ripe and that all history must pass through its own necessary process before these things shall be. The church must have been completed. The gospel must have been preached to all men. And the wickedness of the wicked must be full. History must finish its course. And therefore it teaches us that we must not look out of the window in the expectation that these things shall come tomorrow, or even today. They shall not. First must be the man of sin. The antichristian kingdom must come to complete manifestation. Then must the people of God be oppressed and pushed to the wall, and live as outcasts upon the earth. Then must Gog and Magog be aroused from its sleep and contemplate the great war against the power of Antichrist. And then all things shall come as we are told in Scripture. Christ shall remove His people. He shall stir up the nations against one another. It shall be an awful day. But the people of God shall then be on earth no more.
But once more: these things shall not happen tomorrow. They may happen quickly. We are making history fast. Let, then, our eye be fixed on the promise. And let us not be afraid. Christ is our King, and He rules now and forever. And He that sits in the heavens shall laugh. At the last battle of Jehovah He shall gather them all together and tread them in the great winepress of His wrath.
Let no one, then, take our crown; but may we be found faithful even unto the end.