Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 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.
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.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles. (HCSB)
Following the proclamation of the three angels, we next encounter “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud. He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. An angel beckons Him to use the sickle, and He does, harvesting the earth.
Then, a different angel comes out of the sanctuary. He, too, bears a sharp sickle, and at the bidding of a third angel, he swings the sickle to the earth, gathers the grapes from its vineyard, and casts them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. Finally, we are told the blood gushes out of the winepress at a depth approaching the horses’ bridles and for a length of 180 miles.
This is a graphic scene of harvest and vintage, and it raises many questions:
- What is the significance of the white cloud?
- Who is the “One like the Son of Man?”
- What does the sickle represent?
- Why do both the “One like the Son of Man” and the angel wield sickles on the earth?
- Who or what are the grapes that are gathered and thrown into the winepress?
- And does blood really flow several feet deep for 180 miles?
Let’s see if we can find answers.
Rev. 14:12 – This demands the perseverance of the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus. (HCSB)
This demands the perseverance of the saints
Verse 12 reads, “This demands the perseverance of the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.” This is similar to the message of Rev. 13:10: “This demands the perseverance and faith of the saints.” In both passages, the Lord reminds the persecuted saints – and perhaps even their persecutors – that He will judge the wicked. Yes, the beast will wield great power, ascend to a worldly throne, and command people of every nationality to bend the knee to him. Yes, he will harangue, imprison, torment and slaughter those who refuse to worship him. At times it will seem that faithfulness to Jesus is unbearable and unrewarded. But those who “keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus” one day will be vindicated. Those who take Christians captive will be imprisoned themselves. Those who harass God’s people will find there is no rest for them in this life or the life to come. Those who take the sword and extinguish the lives of the faithful will long for death themselves but find it illusive as they suffer God’s wrath.
“In the fiery ordeal of persecution which awaits all who will not worship the beast, the faith and patience of the followers of God and Jesus shall be put to the test, and proved” (R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical an Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Rev. 14:12).
The saints who persevere will be rewarded for their godly works at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus urges His followers to lay up treasure in heaven, where it is kept safe and will endure (Matt. 6:20). The apostle Paul informs us that our works of faithfulness, like gold, silver and precious stones, will be refined in the fires of judgment and emerge purified (1 Cor. 3:11-15). And in Revelation Jesus reminds us that our faithfulness will be rewarded (Rev. 2:23; 22:12).
Rev. 14:9 – And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, 11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (HCSB)
A third angel follows the other two and pronounces woe on those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands. The consequences of rejecting God – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture – are spelled out plainly. The one who embraces the beast will experience the consequences of his or her rebellion.
First, the beast worshiper will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger” (v. 10a). The Greek word for “cup,” poterion, is used 82 times in the New Testament (HCSB) and denotes a drinking vessel of any sort. Commonly, a cup is a small bowl made of pottery, wider and shallower than today’s tea cups. However, the wealthy enjoy their drinks in goblet-shaped cups of metal or glass. The cup used at the Last Supper likely is an earthenware bowl large enough for all to share.
Figuratively, however, throughout the Bible the word “cup” may describe a measure of blessings or wrath divinely allotted to people or nations:
- In Psalm 16:5, David calls the Lord “my portion and my cup of blessing.”
- In Psalm 116:12-13, the writer declares, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.”
- But in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet warns, “Wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem, you have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord; you who have drunk the goblet to the dregs – the cup that causes people to stagger.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus agonizes over His impending suffering and death, He prays, “My Father! If it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
- And moments later, after Peter cuts of the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus tells him, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” The cup Jesus endures, of course, is His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross to secure our salvation, a most bitter cup as “the One who did not know sin [became] sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s also a cup Jesus endures “for the joy that lay before Him” because it results in our salvation (Heb. 12:2).
But now in Revelation the cup, which the Babylonians entice the world to drink, is turned into the cup of God’s wrath.
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.
Apologetics simply is a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek noun apologia and means “a defense.” Apologia and its verb form apologeomai are used nearly 20 times in the New Testament, often in the classic legal sense, but more importantly to describe the call of God to all believers to defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).
But how is sound doctrine applied practically? Put another way, what good is Christian apologetics?
Apologetics has at least four practical applications. We may use apologetics to:
Build. There is a positive case to be made for Christianity, and apologetics helps us get there.
The Bible, history, archaeology, and other sources help establish that a real person named Jesus burst onto the scene 2,000 years ago. He claimed deity, performed miracles, spoke the truth, modeled compassion, died on a Roman cross, was buried and rose physically on the third day. His coming to earth was the most important event in human history.
Further, apologetics helps us know who God is; who we are; why there is purpose in life; how we can be restored to a right relationship with our Creator; why we can face death without fear; and what God is doing about evil in the world.