14And I perceived, and lo! a white cloud, and on the cloud One sitting like a son of mankind, having a golden wreath on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15And another messenger came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him Who is sitting on the cloud, "Send in Thy sickle and reap! for the hour came to reap, for the harvest of the earth is dried." 16And He Who is sitting on the cloud casts His sickle on the earth, and the earth is reaped.
17And another messenger came out of the temple which is in heaven, he, also having a sharp sickle. 18And another messenger came out of the altar, having jurisdiction over the fire. And he shouts with a loud voice to him who has the sharp sickle, saying, "Send in your sharp sickle, and pick the clusters of the earth's grapevine, for its grapes are dead ripe." 19And the messenger casts his sickle into the earth, and picks the grapevine of the earth, and he casts them into the great trough of the fury of God. 20And the trough was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the trough up to the bits of the horses, for a thousand six hundred stadia.
THE HARVEST AND THE VINTAGE
THE two divisions of this Temple section of the Unveiling, one giving us Yahweh's redemption of faithful Israel, and the other detailing His destruction of the apostates, both close with a pair of pictures most graphically presenting their consummation. One concludes with the Harvest and the Vintage (14:14-20). The other ends with the Marriage Feast of the Lambkin and God's Great Dinner (19:6-21). In each case there are a couple of closely related figures. The first pair portrays the ingathering of the crops. There is a harvest of the grain and of the grapes. The other deals with feasting. There is a wedding and a state dinner. And in each case the first figure is filled with felicity and the second is dire with doom.
Until we see this it is somewhat difficult to discover why two figures so nearly alike should be used. If the Harvest also spells the destruction of Israel's adversaries, in what way does this differ from the Vintage? In every other way they seem identical, and we have something too near a "vain repetition" to claim a place in a scroll which otherwise has not a redundant syllable. There must be a wide divergence, similar to other cases of this kind. The two white horse riders (6:2; 19:11) have been confused, though one is Christ and the other antichrist. There is a surface likeness between good and evil, especially in the last days.
It is said that the Harvest must be a "judgment" scene because One like a son of mankind does the reaping, and all "judgment" has been committed to the Son because He is the Son of Mankind (John 5:27). This is true, but the drab color foisted on the word "judgment" makes it false. This whole scroll is replete with judgment. Not merely the ungodly are judged, however, but the martyrs have judgment granted them (20:4). These martyrs are the very ones in view in this Harvest. The judgment of the dead (11:18) includes the wedding of the Lambkin. Her bridal robe is an award of judgment. "Judgment" is not condemnation. It deals out blessing to the deserving as well as doom to the undeserving. Yahweh Himself is judged at this time.
In this case, however, the sharp sickle seems to indicate a painful process. It is the very same kind of instrument as is used in the Vintage, which, as we shall see, is an act of God's fury. This anomaly is readily explained when we recall the previous proclamations and the eonian evangel. There, blessing is not through life, but death. There is the shadow of apparent doom in the blessing of the Harvest. Like the literal garnering of grain, it consists in beheading, and it is not easy to see in this terrible ordeal the true happiness which it holds. Apart from the special companies, the vast throng of Israel's saved at the time of the end will be harvested by death. They are the happy dead who die in the Lord.
It is suggested that this harvest is the concentrated expression of the calamities which occur under the bowls. Having once seen the distinct divisions of this book, no one will take the closing visions of one section as an introduction to the next, especially when the object of the two is totally different. We are still concerned with the covenant, and Yahweh's fulfillment of it for faithful Israel. The next section, in which the bowls occur, deals with the unfaithful part of the nation, and their destruction. It does not commence until the law is exposed in the tabernacle of the testimony (15:5), for it is based on the breaking of the law. The Harvest is founded on the fulfillment of the covenant (11:19).
There is something very striking and suggestive in the fact that the eonian evangel was proclaimed by a messenger, or angel, the doom of Babylon was announced by a messenger, the doom of the apostates was threatened by a messenger, the Vintage is carried out by two messengers, but a voice from heaven announces the happiness of the martyrs and One like a son of mankind reaps the harvest of the earth.
Still more striking is the fact that, though all of these messengers are under the Son of Mankind, and are carrying out His orders, in the case of the Harvest this is reversed. Perhaps this is why we do not read that it was the Son of Mankind, but One like a son of mankind. No one doubts that this is Christ, yet it is not in accord with His high dignity to take this subordinate position, for here He takes His orders from a messenger out of the temple!
Is it not plain that the Man of Sorrows, Who always dealt out blessing in His lowly sojourn on earth (if we except the cursing of the fig tree), still delights to deal out mercy, and when, amidst the dreadful storm clouds that lower over the guilty earth, a bright cloud of blessing is to descend, it is His delight to exchange places with His subordinates and seize the sickle with His own pierced hand? Judgment is given to the Son of Mankind, not because He is made of sterner stuff than others, but because He can sympathize with sorrow-stricken humanity. He has endured their woes and knows their weakness.
The sight of a white cloud in such a stormy sky is very striking. It is the color, not of condemnation, but of justification. Not only our Lord Himself (Matt.17:2; 28:3; Mark 9:3; 16:5; Luke 9:29), but His messengers (John 20:12; Acts 1:10) and the heavenly elders (Rev.4:4) are clothed in white. This is the color of the robes of righteousness which are granted to the conquerors (Rev.3:4,5,18), the souls under the altar (6:11), the vast throng (7:9,13), and those who compose the army of Christ at His advent (19:11,14).
White clouds do not alarm us. They do not threaten a sudden storm. Their fleecy forms float serenely in the azure vault of heaven. They are bright and beautiful. Not so with black clouds. They bring fear and even terror at their approach. Dimming the light of day, they spread stygian darkness over the sky, which is only deepened by the lurid illumination of the lightning flash, and made more menacing by the reverberations of the thunder's awful roll. These are often present in this scroll. Here they are absent. The cloud is white.
The cloud is big with blessing, even if the only portal to bliss is the sharp sickle of death, for these martyrs are those who not only live, but also reign with Christ during the thousand years. And, strange to say, the blessing comes only through the death-dealing sickle, for all who are not reaped by its keen edge, and raised again in the former resurrection, are left for the awful fury of an indignant God.
The "crown" or wreath is a fitting symbol here, for it speaks of both reward and dominion. It was given to the winners in the games and was worn by those of regal rank. As a prize it was twined of some perishable plant. As a royal head piece it was made of precious metal. This crown is of gold. It suggests to us the One Who has won the prize of earthly dominion and is exercising His royal rights as the great Reaper. But He reaps only the seed He has sown. The darnel sown by the enemy are left for messengers (Matt.13: 37-39). After they have gathered the darnel into bundles, that it may be burned, the wheat is gathered into His barn.
What a contrast is this golden trophy of His achievements with the wreath of thorns braided by the soldiers of Caesar! In these two incidents, the first and last time we read of a wreath in the Greek Scriptures, we are given a miniature of His whole career. He who suffers shall reign! The Christ of the crown of thorns is the only One Who may wear the crown of gold. Is not this why He condescends to stoop down to earth before His glorious advent in order to stop the sufferings of His saints? They also have suffered, and they shall reign with Him. By a blessed death they are spared further trial and thus escape the furious inflictions which are yet to come under the figure of the seven bowls.
The golden wreath is on His head. We might be captious and criticize this as a needless item of information, but we have learned to value divine "blemishes" above human corrections. The first time we read of Him in the character He here assumes, His head had no crown. "The jackals have burrows, and the flying creatures of heaven roosts, yet the Son of Mankind has nowhere that He may be reclining His head" (Matt.8:20). As the Son of Mankind He is the Head of all earth's creatures. The animals are among the lowest subjects in His dominion. They are provided for. Yet He, their Head, had nowhere to pillow it! Now, what a change! It is not weary. It wants no resting place. It is adorned with the symbol appropriate to its high place and power.
Once more we are reminded that the main issue in this section is worship. These martyrs are not massacred because they refuse allegiance to the powers that be. They do not suffer for lack of loyalty to the political pretensions of the great emperor. All there woes come because they will not worship his image or wear his emblem. The messenger who gives the order to reap comes out of the temple (14:15). Those who refuse to receive the antichrist are remembered in the sanctuary. Their deliverance is decreed in the presence of God.
In the opening of the next section we will meet these martyrs again, standing on the fire-flecked glassy sea, with lyres or harps in their hands, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lambkin (5:2-4). As they are there, in vision, before the messengers with the seven last calamities pour out the bowls of hoarded fury into the land, they are saved from the most terrific of all the divine visitations. Indeed, these martyrs are the immediate cause of these fierce inflictions, and are prefaced, along with the song of Moses, to vindicate the divine vengeance.
However we may be inclined to associate a vintage with joy and gladness, the figure here refers us to the most fearful destruction, under the aspect of the treading. As this process may not be familiar to some, a few words of explanation may be in place. I well remember how, in the early days, when Southern California produced great stores of wine, I used to watch the bare-footed men trampling down the grapes in the great trough, and see the juice flow forth below. Even then it seemed a shame to tread down the beautiful black berries. Now, as I look back, I shudder at the awful suggestiveness of the blood-like juice and the ruthless treading of the mellow grapes.
In this respect the Vintage differs from the Harvest. Nothing is said about the threshing of the wheat, which might suggest severity, if not destruction. But here much is made of the treading of the grapes. This suggests a lesson in figures of speech which few seem to heed. Press only the expressed points of contact between the literal and the figurative. If a figure is like the literal in all points it is no longer a figure, for likeness then gives place to identity. Ignore all the implications. They are not a part of the figure. The harvesting of fully ripe wheat usually includes threshing. That is literal, and true. But if threshing is not specifically mentioned, its injection is false and misleading. There will be no threshing of this Harvest.
Again our attention is drawn to the temple, as the origin of this infliction. On this occasion two messengers emerge, one from the temple, and one from the altar, and each is connected with an agent of destruction. The messenger who came out of the temple had a sharp sickle.
The reaper is urged to his task by another messenger. He doubtless suggests the motive for the Vintage. He comes out of the altar. He has jurisdiction over fire. Does not this remind us of a similar scene in the political section? Under the fifth seal the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and their testimony are found under the altar, whence this messenger emerges. They cry for vengeance on their murderers. But they are bidden to rest until the massacre of their brethren is complete (Rev.6:9-11). It is at this point that the messenger comes out of the altar and orders the Vintage to proceed.
When the Harvest has been ended and all the faithful have been offered up as sacrifices for their faith, and their blood poured at the bottom of the altar, then it is time for the vengeance of the Vintage. Just as the blood of Abel cried out to God after he was dead, so the sufferings of God's elect will demand the retribution of the Vintage. The Harvest is not to be confused with it, but is the cause of it. It is finished before it because it leads to it.
The messenger who comes out of the altar has jurisdiction over its fire. The sacrificial flame must be kept burning at all times. It should have been in charge of one of Israel's priests. Now, however, it seems destined to die out. There is no other way of perpetuating the worship of God on earth but to destroy those who are extirpating the saints. The blood beneath the altar and the fire on the altar become vocal in their insistence on the destruction of the wild beast and his minions.
Near the close of the next section we come upon the Vintage again, in connection with the destruction of the wild beast and its armies by the White Horse Rider (Rev.19:11-21). There we are told Who the Treader is. "And He is treading the wine trough of the furious indignation of God, the Almighty. And on His cloak and on His thigh He has a name written: `King of kings and Lord of lords.'" This brings the career of the wild beast to its close and ushers in the millennial reign. Hence we have once more arrived at the crisis heralded by the seventh trumpet. The succeeding section must be anterior to this, so covers the same period of time.
The prophet Joel has a most graphic account of this epoch, and uses the same figures of speech. He gives us many details and settles many doubtful points, so we will give two passages from his third chapter in full, revising slightly to make them sufficiently concordant to be safe.
|JOEL 3:1,2 (in Heb.4:1,2) |
|For, behold, in those days, And in that time, |
When I shall reverse the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will also convene all the nations
And bring them down to the vale of Jehoshaphat.
And I will enter into judgment with them there
Concerning My people, And My allotment, Israel,
Whom they disperse among the nations,
And My land which they apportion.
JOEL 3:9-17 (in Heb.4:9-17)
|Proclaim this among the nations! |
Hallow a war!
Rouse the masters of war!
Let all the men of warfare come close and ascend.
Pound your mattocks into swords
And your pruners into lances!
Let even the defeatist say, A master of war am I!
Mobilize and come, all nations from round about!
Settle there Your masters of war, O Yahweh!
Let all the nations be roused and ascend to the vale of Jehoshaphat.
For there I shall sit to judge all the nations from round about.
Send forth the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
Come, downtread, for the winetrough is full,
The winevats run over,
For great is their evil.
Throngs, throngs in the vale of decision!
For near is the day of Yahweh in the vale of decision!
The sun and the moon are somber,
And the stars gather back their brightness.
Yahweh shall roar from Zion,
And from Jerusalem shall He lift up His voice,
The heavens and the earth will quake.
Yet Yahweh is a Refuge for His people,
And a Stronghold for the sons of Israel.
And you will know that I am Yahweh your Elohim,
Tabernacling in Zion, My holy mountain;
Jerusalem will come to be a holy place,
And aliens shall not pass in her any longer.
The latter passage is dramatic, in its interchange of narrative and dialogue. We view all, not as a far-off future event, but as though we were present (as we shall be), looking down on the climax and culmination of human rebellion and divine forbearance. A few words of explanation regarding some of the new renderings may be appreciated before we pass on to a consideration of the passages as a whole.
The rendering "am judged" is rather a bold stroke, though perfectly justified by the facts. The usual rendering "plead," is merely a concession to the erroneous idea that judgment involves condemnation. It does not. Yahweh and His people are going to get their deserts as well as the nations. It is the Niphal form of the Hebrew shaphat, judge, which may have a middle or a passive force. It is really middle, in this passage, for Yahweh is the actor and the one acted upon. The nations are not represented as acting.
"Mortal" is one of the words usually translated man. It means incurable, and refers to the sin and infirmity of humanity. It is a pity to confuse it with the other names for humanity, for it is filled with significance in many of its occurrences. Here it is very suggestive. Man's proud armies are mortal. Yahweh's hosts are immortal. How insanely impotent is their struggle against God! We feel that the word "mortal," which English already sanctions in the sense of human, is a valuable rendering, and hope that it will be welcomed by students of the Scriptures.
There is good reason to follow the Authorized Version rendering share in 1 Samuel 13:20. If this is right, then the word here used, eth, is probably the colter, or coulter, as they themselves render it in 1 Samuel 13:20,21. This is an instructive instance in which the translators were forced to use the vocabulary method, because both of these words came together in one passage and had to be discriminated. We are simply extending this advantage to all the occurrences. Besides, a plowshare, even if beaten into the shape of a sword, would be an unwieldy weapon, too heavy to carry. But the colter, a steel blade fastened to the beam to cut the sod before the share turns it over, is much easier to fashion into a sword, and more likely to be used.
"The valley of decision" is rather a good rendering, and we have hesitated before trying to improve on it. The literal Hebrew suggests the idea of a point. It is used of the pointed iron instrument which was used in threshing grain. It suggests the climax, or culmination of Yahweh's dealing with the nations. It is not merely that the controversy is decided, but that the turning point has arrived when the nations go their full length and Yahweh brings the matter to a culmination.
The word kadar is usually represented by black or dark, each of which has its own Hebrew equivalent. It is, however, often translated mourn (Job 5:11; 30:28; Psa.38:6; etc.). That it does not mean absolute blackness is evident from several passages. What is needed is an English word which combines the meaning of darkness with sadness. This we have in somber. It satisfies both the literal and metaphorical use, and probably is intended to lend a touch of sadness even to this scene, where it is used in its primary sense.
The time of a prophecy is always important. Joel fixes this in a most satisfactory manner. The battle of Jehoshaphat (there is no battle of Armageddon) takes place at the very close of gentile dominion. It is the time when Yahweh settles with them for their treatment of His people. It immediately precedes the restoration of the holy nation.
Joel gives a striking confirmation to our insistence that the real issue of this war is worship. The usual rendering is most inadequate. "Prepare war" may seem better English, but it fails to give the sense. The Revisers have "sanctify" in the margin. It means make holy, hallow. It corresponds to the jehad, or holy war, of Islam.
With Joel's details added to John's succinct account, we have one of the most notable prophetic forecasts in the Scriptures. The mere prediction of a great slaughter in the future could hardly fail of fulfillment. That it should be located on a line nearly two hundred miles long involves a prescience unknown to man. That it will be in the vale of Jehoshaphat, involving the mobilized nations of the world, and end in their sudden destruction, with signs in the sun and moon and many other accompanying details, makes it a miracle of guesswork unless inspired by God, for there are billions of chances against the combination, at one time, of so many minute coincidences.
How fitting is the name of this, the decisive battle which changes man's day into the day of Yahweh! Jehoshaphat is a compound of the title of Yahweh and the usual Hebrew word for judge. The culmination of man's misrule and the beginning of Christ's reign can only be brought about by Jehoshaphat - the judgment of Yahweh.
As this scene will come before us again we need not linger here now. Before WWI a battle line over one hundred eighty three miles was considered a fantastic exaggeration. But the western front was much longer than that. This line will be in Israel, from Harmageddon, through the valley of Jehoshaphat, to Bozrah (Isa.24:6-8; 63:1-6), which is just the correct length. Here will be such a blood slaughter as the world has never known before - aye, and will never know again, for fire consumes the insurgent hosts at the close of the thousand years.
The lowest point of this sanguinary stream will run so deep as to challenge belief. The blood from this long trough will rise to the height of the horses' bits. It makes one shudder and sicken even to think of the millions of mangled carcasses which must be bled to make this river of gore, which satiates the awful fury of an offended God. Thus ends man's day. God's forbearance lasts long, but His fury is sudden, swift and summary. Yet His judgment is true and righteous altogether!