Rev. 14:17 – Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” (HCSB)
Another angel had a sharp sickle
Next, we encounter the fourth angel of Revelation 14. Like the One seated on the cloud, he also wields a sharp sickle and comes out of the sanctuary in heaven. A fifth angel follows him, and this one is said to have “authority over fire.” He calls in a loud voice to the fourth angel, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18).
This passage echoes Joel 3:9-13 in which grape harvesting and wine pressing are used as metaphors for judgment, and Isa. 63:1-6 in which God treads the grapes in His fury, pressing out the lifeblood of people. The same metaphor is found in Jer. 25:15, 28-31. Judgment also is symbolized by the harvest in Jer. 51:33 and Hosea 6:11. Moreover, it is the Messiah who treads the winepress in Rev. 19:15.
Why are we told about the angel that has “authority over fire?” Perhaps this is connected to the fifth seal in Rev. 6:9-11. Here, martyrs “under the altar” cry out to God for vengeance. Later, in the seventh seal, an angel with a gold incense burner stands at the altar. He is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the altar, and hurls it to the earth, which results in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. This also helps prepare the seven angels to usher in the next series of judgments.
The measure of sin
It’s possible this is the same angel with “authority over fire” in Rev. 14:18. He comes in response to the prayers of the martyred saints and in reaction to the wickedness of earth’s inhabitants. The world’s measure of sin is full. God’s grace and mercy have been rejected to the point they would not be received under any circumstance; indeed, when judgment falls, unbelievers choose to blaspheme God rather than repent. As C.S. Lewis describes it, the objects of God’s wrath are not those who say to the Lord, “Thy will be done.” Rather, they are the ones to whom He says, “Thy will be done.” They have chosen sin over the Savior and wrath over righteousness.
There is little doubt that this angel is an instrument of God’s judgment, for his message to the fourth angel to swing his sickle over the earth ushers in swift and decisive action. “The wrathful judgment that now begins … is on the one hand a consequence of the fact that human beings rejected those [previous] demonstrations of God’s power; on the other hand, it is God’s final answer to the prayers of his people for the establishment of his power” (Jurgen Roloff, Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 178).
The fourth angel is instructed to “gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18). If these grapes symbolize unbelievers, then why are Christians depicted as fruit-bearing branches connected with the “true vine” in John 15:1-8? Grapes are grapes, right? W.A. Criswell comments, “‘The vine of the earth’ is a reference used in contradistinction to the vine of heaven, which is our blessed Lord, with us the branches. ‘The vine of the earth’ is the vine of rejection, of unbelief, of blasphemy and of unrepentance” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 166).
An Old Testament reference may add further light. In Isa. 5:1-7 we read the Song of the Vineyard. The Lord asks the people of Judah to tell Him what more He could have done for His “vineyard.” He established the nation on a fertile hill, broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and dug a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded “worthless grapes.” So what will the Lord do? He tells them He will remove its hedge, tear down its wall, and allow it to be trampled; thorns and briers will grow up. If there’s any doubt about this reference, Isaiah makes it clear: “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in. He looked for justice but saw injustice, for righteousness, but heard cries of wretchedness” (v. 7).
The coming vintage John describes is not a joyful one in which the people of God will drink the fruit of the vine with Jesus in His kingdom (Luke 22:18). Rather, it is the trampling of the worthless grapes, in which unbelievers will drink their own sour concoction as a consequence of their sins.
Next: The great winepress of God’s wrath – Revelation 14:19