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. 14:4 – These are the ones not defiled with women, for they have kept their virginity. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (HCSB)
They were redeemed … as the firstfruits
We should note that John refers to the 144,000 as people “redeemed from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” In what way are they firstfruits?
In the Old Testament, the first sheaf of ripe grain is to be offered to the Lord, and is waved before Him by the priest, expressing gratitude to God and acknowledging that He – the Owner and Giver of all things – will grant a bountiful harvest. A lamb also is sacrificed as a burnt offering (see Lev. 23:10-14). In addition, the Lord requires the first of the Israelites’ flocks, and even their first-born children, although a redemption price is accepted in their stead. All of this is designed to teach God’s people that He is their sovereign Lord who demands their first and best, yet who watches over them as a gracious landowner, husbandman and shepherd.
In this respect, the word “firstfruits” involves two ideas: 1) that which is first, the beginning, or that which has the priority of time; and 2) that which is part of the whole to follow, and which is the earnest or pledge of the whole. The first sheaf of ripe grain therefore is not only the first in order of time, but is the earnest or pledge of the entire harvest that surely will come in.
Consider the feast of firstfruits, one of seven major Jewish festivals. The first and best of the barley crop is offered to the Lord in thankfulness and in faith that He will grant the rest of the harvest to be bountifully reaped. More importantly, it is a shadow of the coming Messiah.
Rev. 14:1 – Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
With Him were 144,000
John sees with the Lamb “144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v. 1). Who are the 144,000? Are they the same people we encounter in Revelation 7? And should the number be taken literally or symbolically?
We first hear of 144,000 in Rev. 7:4. They are identified as “slaves of our God” who are sealed “on their foreheads.” This is similar to the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1 who have the Lamb’s name “and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” This special group is sealed on earth in Revelation 7, and is referred to as “the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth” in Revelation 14. However, the sealed slaves in Revelation 7 are from “every tribe of the Israelites,” while those sealed in Revelation 14 are not identified as ethnic Jews. So, are these the same people?
It would appear so, even though there is no clear consensus among scholars. Some insist they are the same 144,000 since they are sealed by God on their foreheads and are redeemed from the earth. Those who hold this view stress that we see the 144,000 on earth in chapter 7 and in heaven in chapter 14. Other interpreters, however, say that these are two different groups: Jews in chapter 7 and the “redeemed from the human race” in chapter 14 (v. 4), suggesting that Gentiles are included in this number.
Rev. 12:6 – The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days. (HCSB)
The woman fled
Finally in this section we are told, “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days” (v. 6). Keep in mind that the woman in this vision is Israel. So, we might ask: When does Israel flee? Where is the wilderness? What is the special place God prepares for her? And what is the meaning of 1,260 days?
As we noted earlier, some commentators see the woman as the Virgin Mary and conclude that this flight into the wilderness is her departure with Joseph and Jesus into Egypt after Herod’s decree to kill all infant males in and around Bethlehem. Others say the woman is the church on its pilgrim journey through the present age, nourished by God while living among a vast multitude of heathens. While these interpretations have some merit, they do not seem to fit the context as well as the understanding that the woman is Israel.
The woman is depicted as “pregnant” in verse 2. She cries out in labor and agony to give birth. Perhaps this is a summary description of Israel’s tortuous path to the virgin birth. God’s people have experienced slavery in Egypt, captivity in Assyria and Babylon, the destruction of their great city and temple, and a legacy of wicked leaders and false prophets. That the nation of Israel exists at all by the time of Roman rule is a miracle unto itself. But now the agonies of childbirth are about to give way to the joy of experiencing a most unique miracle as God becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite his most sinister efforts, Satan is unable to destroy God’s people or prevent the birth of their Messiah. John describes it simply: “But she gave birth to a Son – a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5). This reference is taken from the Greek translation of Ps. 2:9 – “you will shepherd [rule] them with a rod of iron.” The Hebrew text renders it, “[Y]ou will smash them with a rod of iron.” Either way, the emphasis is on the reign of a king.