Rev. 14:15 – Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (HCSB)
The earth was harvested
John picks up the narrative in verses 15-16: “Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.”
The harvest in these verses, though not stated explicitly, refers to wheat or barley. The word for ripe (Gr.: xeraino) describes dried heads of grain and is different than the word used of ripened grapes in verse 18.
The phrase “another angel” does not imply that the “One like the Son of Man” is an angel. John simply is continuing his observation from the point of the three angels in verses 6-13. This angel comes out of the sanctuary and heads straight for the One holding the sickle. He bears a message from God the Father, who is seated on His throne in the heavenly Holy of Holies (Rev. 6:9; 8:3; 11:19). The message is simple: The time to reap has come; the earth is ripe for harvest. The One seated on the cloud asks no questions, nor does He hesitate. He swings His sickle over the earth, and it is harvested.
No doubt this is a harvest of people on the earth. But who are they? Commentators differ in their understanding of this passage. Some believe this is the harvest of the just, coming before the harvest of the unbelievers (vv. 17-20); it is distinct just as the wheat harvest is distinct from the harvest of grapes. Others, however, argue that scripture normally speaks only of unbelievers being cut down. Therefore, both the One like the Son of Man and the angel with the sickle are engaged in destroying the wicked; one harvest, two perspectives.
Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).
The second trumpet
This is the second of four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case the sea and the creatures who swim in it or sail upon it. The final three trumpet judgments, as we learned in the last lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this second trumpet judgment, John sees something that appears to him as a great blazing mountain plummeting into the sea, resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea dying, and a third of the ships navigating its waters being destroyed.
Is John’s vision to be taken literally? What is this great blazing mountain? Is the sea a reference to all salty bodies of water around the world, or perhaps simply a reference to the Mediterranean Sea – or something else entirely? What are we to make of the fractional reference to “a third,” which we encountered in the first trumpet judgment? Let’s look more closely.
The second angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. This is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
While the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and Jesus warns His followers to be ready at all times for the unknown day of His return (Matt. 25:13), the judgments God sends upon the world’s wicked are announced in advance. We are not told how much time elapses between the sounding of the shofar and the arrival of these torments, any more than we can say with certainty how much time we have to run for cover after a tornado siren blasts a warning. But it appears that God communicates to mankind through the angels that His mercy is drawing to a close and His hammer is about to fall. Perhaps in these final moments some will repent, although John’s record seems to indicate that the wicked prefer blasphemy to humility in the face of judgment (Rev. (9:21, 16:9b, 21b).
Something like a great mountain ablaze with fire
What is it that John sees? He writes that “something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea.” He doesn’t say “a great mountain,” but “something like a great mountain,” which could mean this is a hidden symbol for his first-century readers or an attempt to describe something he has never seen before – a glimpse, perhaps, into the distant future.
Commentators offer many perspectives:
- Some say this mountain is Satan, lifted up like a mountain in his pride, and burning with hatred for God and his people, who is cast down into the sea of humanity, where he does much harm.
- Others say this is a heresy that does much damage to the church – the Macedonian heresy, perhaps, leveled against the deity of the Holy Spirit, or the Arian heresy against the deity of Christ. Each of these divine persons is one-third of the triune Godhead, so John’s reference to the mountain causing damage to “a third” of the sea finds its significance here.
- Still others argue that it’s best to understand this imagery in terms of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals. Rome is fitly represented as a great mountain, as kingdoms and cities sometimes are in scripture. The “sea” in this case represents the people throughout the Roman Empire who suffer as a result of the invaders’ brutal advance on Rome. Over the course of 137 years, beginning in 410 A.D., the Goths and Vandals sack Rome five times and reportedly one-third of the people are killed.
- W.A. Criswell writes that a modern-day fulfillment could be communism, which finds its foothold among restless people. Rather than producing liberation, it brings captivity, hardship, economic depression, despair and death.
- Futurists like Hal Lindsay see this blazing mountain as John’s attempt to describe nuclear warheads.
- Others interpret these verses literally. “The mountain is probably best understood as being a literal large body that fell from heaven. Since the results are literal, it is reasonable to take the judgments as literal also” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 8:8–9).
Whatever the proper interpretation, it’s clear that this judgment impacts many people. Satan is thought by some commentators to have taken one-third of the angelic host with him in his rebellion. Heresies that undermine any of the persons of the Triune Godhead impact the church and its ability to carry the gospel to the world. Wars involving world powers like Rome generate tremendous violence and upheaval. Worldviews that deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, like communism, result in spiritual, political and economic imprisonment. And modern technology has made it possible for a single nation to wreak havoc on much of the world.
Perhaps, as we’ve addressed in previous lessons, these verses are fulfilled in John’s day, and later in church history, and finally in the last days. Jerusalem falls in 70 A.D. and with it, formal Judaism comes to a close. The Roman Empire falls a few centuries later. Heresies do great damage to the church. Warfare causes great loss of life and damage to property and the environment. And in the last days, according to futurists, the Antichrist will lead nearly the whole world astray. In every case there is a common denominator: sin. Mankind’s rebellion against God manifests itself in political leaders who deify themselves; in church leaders who trump scripture with manmade traditions or, worse, heresies; in philosophers who rail against the idea of God and His absolute truths; and in ordinary people who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.
Maybe we would do well not to agonize over what each symbol in Revelation means, but to look within ourselves at our fallen state and to grasp the only hope we have: Jesus. Ultimately, it will take the destruction of the entire world to purge it of sin and its consequences and to make way for new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3: 10-13).
Next: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Most of chapters 2-12 likely was written during the reign of King Uzziah.
Isa. 5:5: Now I will tell you what I am about to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will tear down its wall, and it will be trampled.
Isaiah uses a parable to foretell judgment on Judah, and then pronounces six woes on the people as he catalogues their sins.
The parable of the vineyard in verses 1-7 is similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44. At the same time, the woes pronounced on the wicked in verses 8-30 have a familiar ring. Jesus’ woes on the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 23 are aimed at their arrogance, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. There appears to be a good reason Jesus quotes Isaiah so often: Just as the prophet foretells pending judgment on Judah for its sins, the Messiah foretells judgment on Israel for its vapid spiritual life.
Parable of the vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7)
This parable foretelling judgment on Judah is eerily similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel that occurs in 70 A.D. with the most notable consequence being the temporary setting aside of God’s spiritual blessings on Israel in favor of the church. In Isaiah, the pending judgment is national and focused mainly on the leaders’ social injustice. In Matthew, the pending judgment also is national but centers on the leaders’ spiritual coldness – particularly their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.
D.A. Carson summarizes the parable in Isaiah 5: “The parable brings home, as nothing else could, the sheer unreason and indefensibility of sin – we find ourselves searching for some cause of the vine’s failure and there is none. Only humans could be as capricious as that” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Section Isaiah 5:1).
There is no mistaking the meaning of this parable. The vineyard is “the house of Israel” and the fruitless vine “the men of Judah” (v. 7). Like a wise, experienced, and caring husbandman, God has done everything necessary to make Judah a shining testimony of His greatness. He plans the vineyard, setting it on “a very fertile hill” (v. 1); prepares the soil, breaking it up and clearing it of stones (v. 2); plants it “with the finest vines” (v. 2); operates and watches over it, building a tower in the middle of the vineyard (v. 2); anticipates its fruitfulness, hewing out a winepress (v. 2); and expects it to “yield good grapes” (v. 2). So when the vineyard “yielded worthless grapes” (v. 2), God could legitimately ask, “What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?” (v. 4).
God has blessed Israel and given her advantages no other nation on earth has ever experienced. Centuries later, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and before God revisits judgment on Israel through the destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora, the apostle Paul reminds his Jewish readers of their special place in God’s heart (Rom. 9:4-5). Nevertheless, Isaiah warns his fellow countrymen what God is about to do. He will remove His hedge of protection so it will be consumed (v. 5); tear down its wall so wild beasts and human plunderers will trample it (v. 5); abandon its care so that “thorns and briers will grow up” (v. 6); and even withhold rain so that it becomes a “wasteland” (v. 6). In practical terms, God is going to give up his special care of Israel so invaders will destroy it. He will even withhold the “rain,” likely a reference to the heaven-sent teachings of the prophets.
There is an interesting play on words in verse 7. Good looks for “justice” (mishpat) but finds “oppression / injustice” (mispach); He looks for “righteousness” (tzedakah) but hears “cries” (tzedkah) of wretchedness (The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge).
Woes for the wicked (Isa. 5:8-30)
Isaiah notes six distinct types of sin resulting in woes from the Lord. As D.A. Carson summarizes in the New Bible Commentary, “The attack has all the bite of personal portraiture. Here are the great, for all to see; they emerge as extortioners (8-10), playboys (11-12; cf. 22-23) and scoffers, whose only predictable values are cash ones (18-23)” (Section Isaiah 5:1). Specifically, the sins are:
- Disregarding Jubilee. “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room, So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!” (v. 8). The jubilee restoration of land every 50 years is designed to protect against greed, but the inhabitants of Judah are selfishly hoarding property (see Lev. 25:13; Micah 2:2). As a result, God will cause many houses to become desolate and the land to yield its fruit grudgingly (vv. 9-10).
- Drunkenness. “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink …” (vv. 11-12). God’s people are indulging in strong drink and revelry without regard for the Creator and Provider of their food and drink. Their parties begin early, when it is especially shameful to drink (see Acts 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:7) and continue into the night. In verse 12, Isaiah refers to the tambourine among other musical instruments that are part of the reveling. The Hebrew word is tophet, and the tambourine are used to drown out the cries of children sacrificed to Moloch. Therefore, God will punish His people for their reckless living by sending them into exile, where they will suffer hunger and thirst – a stark contrast to the gluttonous food and drink found at their banquet tables (v. 13). Sheol, the abode of the dead, has “enlarged its throat” to accommodate the number of Jews who will die in exile (v. 14). In addition, the splendor of Jerusalem will be taken away, the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased (v. 15). But “the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment” (v. 16).
- Obstinate perseverance in sin. “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes” (v. 18). The rabbis used to say, “An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair-string, but the finishing like a cart-rope.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “The antithesis is between the slender cords of sophistry, like the spider’s web (Is 59:5; Job 8:14), with which one sin draws on another, until they at last bind themselves with great guilt as with a cart-rope. They strain every nerve in sin” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Isa. 5:18). While buried up to their necks in sin, the Jewish people seem to be questioning whether God is really in control of the nation, and they challenge them to show Himself by delivering them despite their obstinacy (v. 19).
- Perverted values. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness …” (v. 20). Matthew Henry writes that such people “not only live in the omission of that which is good, but condemn it, argue against it, and, because they will not practise it themselves, run it down in others, and fasten invidious epithets upon it-not only do that which is evil, but justify it, and applaud it, and recommend it to others as safe and good” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 5:18).
- Arrogance. “Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight” (v. 21). Many in Judah think they know better than the prophet and therefore disregard the Word of God through Isaiah. The New Bible Commentary calls them “calmly omniscient.”
- Alcoholic excess and perversion of justice. “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine … who deprive the innocent of justice” (vv. 22-23). They know the value of money, but little more. The judges in particular bankroll their self-indulgence with bribes that favor the rich and deny justice to the innocent. They mix their drinks, not with water, but with spices for intoxication (Prov. 9:2, 5; Song of Sol. 8:2).
As a result of these sins, the people of Judah would be burned like dry grass, and their beauty vanquished like a flower turned to dust. When God’s judgment comes, He will use Egypt and Assyria, and later Babylon, as His rod of punishment. These ferocious powers descend on Judah as if God has raised a banner and called people from “the ends of the earth” to war (v. 26). While these violent conquerors are to be feared like a growling lioness or the roaring sea, they are under the sovereign hand of God and do as He pleases. This chapter ends darkly, with nothing but pending judgment, like storm clouds gathering on the horizon.
Gary V. Smith comments: “These woes assure the reader that God will judge sin severely. The lament conveys the truth that God is terribly saddened when his people reject him or his revealed instructions. Nevertheless, in the end he will hold all people accountable for their actions, especially his own privileged people” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 182).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips