1. Harvest time is coming.
Harvest time is coming. In mid winter, when many trees look dead, when buds are nowhere to be seen and the only fruit around is last year’s crop, it might be hard to believe. Especially if you’re little, it might seem like a lifetime until you’ll need be able to pull a piece of fruit right off the tree and bite into it, just like that!
It’s easier now, when the branches are heavy and you can almost taste those juicy apples – when you’re only waiting for them to ripen up. But still now, the harvest time isn’t here yet – it is coming.
a. It might seem like Christ will never return, but our passage assures us this is not the case.
It has been quite a while since I preached my first sermon on Revelation to you. I was still serving the Cobden congregation at that time, so it’s more than ten years ago now. Isn’t that a long time? Some of us we’re alive yet back then! Some were alive and have gone to be with the Lord. You might be wondering whether we’ll ever get to the end of Revelation!
To me though, it seems long in another way. We’re finishing chapter 14 this morning, so we’re a fair way through – two thirds or so. We’ve considered the initial vision, then the letters to the churches. We’ve heard of John’s initial glimpse into heaven and then seen the seven seals opened one at a time, the seven trumpets, blown one at a time, the dragon and the woman, the beast rising out of the sea, the worship of the saints and the proclamation of the fall of Babylon. We’ve heard that all of these pictures are describing in different ways the same basic events and issues, and giving us the same basic assurances. But still the little kid in me wants to say “Are we there yet?” The grown up in me wants to skip some pages and get to the fun part.
But perhaps that’s the point.
We’re not there yet. The fun part is still coming. But the author of this book – Christ Himself – thought we needed our passage for this morning. The author of this book – Christ Himself – thought we needed to hear about the seven plagues that are in the next chapter, and the seven bowls in chapter 16 and the great prostitute in chapter 17, and the proclamation of the great angel in chapter 18. So perhaps I shouldn’t skip to the end quite yet!
Perhaps I should heed to reminder here to be patient, because harvest time is coming.
How long has it been since we were born? Does that seem like a long time?
Well it’s almost certainly less time than the 100 years since federation.
It’s less time than the 200 plus years since Australia was colonised.
Less time than the 500 years since the start of the Reformation.
Less time than the more than 1500 years since the council of Nicea.
And less time than the roughly 2000 years since our Saviour walked the earth.
That’s right. For roughly 2000 years, the church has been waiting for Jesus to return.
b. Previous instances of waiting for the appropriate time: Jacob → Exodus (430 years), coming of Jesus (‘in the fullness of time God sent His son’), Jesus’ death and resurrection (‘My hour has not yet come’)
But we shouldn’t be surprised by that. Think about the promises God made in the past.
In Genesis 15, God told Abraham “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” Four hundred years isn’t 2000, I’ll grant you. But four hundred years must have felt like forever too! How many times do you think God’s people in Egypt asked themselves “Are we there yet?”
Then there’s the forty years in the wilderness before they got to Israel. Are we there yet?
Or the seventy years in exile. How long, O Lord?
Or the few hundred years of silence before Jesus came. Has He forgotten us?
But each time – in Numbers 14:33, Jeremiah 29, Isaiah 7 – God either gave a specific length of time or a specific sign that would signal the end of the waiting.
And each time, He kept His promise perfectly. Galatians says “In the fullness of time God sent His son.”
Even within Jesus’ life, we see the same pattern. How many times in John’s gospel do we read that Jesus hour had not yet come? (five). How many times does Jesus complain “How long am I to put up with you?” (Once, in Matthew, Mark and Luke). But we also read “At just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
If in the past, God has always kept His promises perfectly; if in the past, He has always known the best time and acted at the best time, why would we believe that He won’t do so now? What good reason do we have to doubt His word, even though it has been so much longer?
The harvest is coming.
c. Jesus told parables about a harvest and promised that He will return.
We should not forget either that Jesus Himself spoke in same way while with His disciples.
There’s the parable John read for us before. There are the calls in Matthew 9 and Luke 10 for His people to seek that He might send out labourers into His harvest. There a little passage in John 4 I’ll leave you to find and consider if you’re willing, and there are all the times that Jesus didn’t use the word ‘harvest’, but still spoke about his second coming.
Jesus promised that harvest time is coming.
2. Harvest time is coming, when the Lord will reap His people from across the earth.
Harvest time is coming, and in this passage in Revelation, the first visible indication that it is happening is that Jesus comes back.
a. When Jesus returns, He will come on the clouds with glory.
We know verse 14 is talking about Jesus because John doesn’t call Him an angel and because the verse does say “one like a son of man”, which Jesus used as a self description. We also know it’s Jesus because of the parallels with Daniel 7:14 – not just the coming on the clouds but the crown that no angel would wear on His head and the way that too matches Daniel, together everything else that links to Daniel through its promise that to the One who came on the clouds was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; that his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
b. When Jesus returns, He will claim His own people, effortlessly.
Notice how effortlessly Jesus claims His own when He returns: “He who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.”
When harvest time is here and Jesus returns to claim His own, There will be no arguing with Him. There will be no debating. There will be no fight. He will claim His own.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 says: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51 tells us: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
(Oh, won’t somebody put Handel’s Messiah on nice and loud?!)
c. When Jesus returns, we will receive eternal life in all its fullness.
And when that glorious moment comes, we will get to where Revelation is going. Out of our mouths will come the words “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Our eyes will see the new heavens and the new earth. God will dwell with us! He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. He will complete the task of making all things new. The Bride, the wife of the Lamb will have the glory of God and everything will be glorious.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – these things are all future at this point in Revelation. They are our hope, our comfort, our peace, but still our future. The harvest must come first.
3. Harvest time is coming, when the rest of the earth will also reap.
a. When Jesus returns, no one will be left behind.
And in our passage, the harvest is not finished yet! Verses 17 through 20 are still to come.
Noone will be left behind. There will be no thousand years before something else happens. A second sickle will be swung and a second harvest collected. There are, as has famously been said, only two ways for us to live, and two outcomes to match.
b. When Jesus returns, those who have rejected Him will also be effortlessly gathered.
I vividly remember trying to cut up a fallen tree once with a blunt chainsaw. For whatever reason, the person who had previously used this chainsaw hadn’t gotten around to sharpening it afterwards, and now I had to deal with the results of that. A nice sharp, well maintained chainsaw will cut generally cut through a branch quickly and effortlessly – like a hot knife through butter. But a blunt chainsaw means hard work for the operator. No fun at all. Ideally you’ll just swap it for another saw and get on with the job.
Here in our passage, both sickles are described as nice and sharp – well prepared for the task at hand. So, just as Jesus had no problems gathering His people, this angel will also have no problems with his task. He has been given all the authority and power He needs to perform His task and He will do it effortlessly.
c. When Jesus returns, those who have rejected Him will wish they hadn’t.
Notice that we’re given some detail on this side of the story that we weren’t given before.
These people are pictured as clusters of grapes from the vine which is the earth. More than that, though, they are clusters destined for the great winepress of the wrath of God. And they are a significant quantity of people, because they yield a significant amount of blood – not wine – a quantity pictured as high enough to reach a horse’s bridle and long enough to reach from the top of Israel to the bottom.
The clear implication of this harvest is that God is not a God to be played around with. Those who persist in rejecting God – whether by outright rejection of the gospel or by simply not caring enough to investigate its claims – will reap what they sow. Their failure to love and serve God above all else in all of life will have resulted in them storing up for themselves perfectly justifiable anger on God’s part, and there will be no avoiding the consequences.
Of course they would be the consequences for you and me also, if it were not for the grace of God in Christ. I am no better than anyone else on this planet. You do not deserve God’s kindness. It is all of grace.
But the point to this passage is not to call us to repentance – though we should repent of our sin.
The point to this passage is not to make us thankful for our salvation – though we should be.
The point to this passage is not to make us mourn for the lost – though we should mourn for them.
The point to this passage is to remind us that no matter what we may see happening around us today, God is in control. The things that seem to be big and important and threatening now – whether personal issues or family crises or international problems like covid – as unbelievable as it might seem now, the things that fill our thoughts now, keep us awake at night, and raise our blood pressure - all of these things will one day fade to nothing. They will be forgotten. Or at the very least, they will no longer worry us.
The harvest is coming.
Even when it doesn’t seem to be the case, Christ is on the throne. God has put all things under His feet and He is reigning.
The harvest is coming and you and I can be confident, secure in the hope and the grace granted to us by our glorious Saviour. To Him and Him alone be the glory, now and forever more.