And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and on the cloud one sat like to the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown…
It is held by many that both these refer to the same fact of God's judgment against sin and sinners. And no doubt, at times, the "harvest," does mean such judgment (cf. Joel 3:13; Jeremiah 51:33). In Matthew 13. both harvests - that of good and evil alike - are told of "Let both grow together until," etc. Still more commonly the figure stands for the people of God and their ingathering into his blessed presence. And we think that here, whilst there can be no doubt as to what the vintage means, the "harvest" does not mean the same, but that gathering of "the wheat into his garner" which shall one day most surely be accomplished. For see the preface (ver. 13) to this vision. It speaks of the blessed dead and their rest. And but for the plain pointing out that the vintage did not refer to them, that also would have been so understood. And the Lord Jesus Christ - for he is meant - is himself the Reaper (ver. 14), himself thrusts in the sickle (ver. 16), whilst the vintage of judgment is assigned to an angel (ver. 17), indicating that it is a different work from the other. And the figure itself, the harvest, the precious corn fully ripe, belongs generally and appropriately to that which is also precious and an object of delight, as is the company of his people to the Lord whose they are. It is not the time of the harvest, but the corn of the harvest, which is spoken of here, and this is ever the type of good, and not evil. Thus understood, let us note -
I. THE HARVEST. "The harvest of the earth." This tells of:
1. The multitude of God's people. Who can count the ears of corn even in one harvest field? how much less in the harvest of the whole earth?
2. The preciousness of them. What do we not owe to, what could we do without, the literal harvest of the earth? Our all, humanly speaking, depends upon it.
3. The joy of God in them. Cf. "They shall joy before thee with the joy of harvest."
4. The care that has been needed and given.
5. The "long patience" that has been exercised. Who but God could be so patient? We often cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" But he waits - and we must learn the like lesson - for the harvest of the earth, for that which is being ripened in our own soul. Harvest comes only so.
6. The evidence of ripeness. We know of the natural harvest that it is ripe by the grain assuming its golden hue. "Knowest thou what it is that gives that bright yellow tinge of maturity to that which erst was green and growing? What imparts that golden hue to the wheat? How do you suppose the husbandman judges when it is time to thrust in the sickle? I will tell you. All the time the corn was growing, those hollow stems served as ducts that drew up nourishment from the soil. At length the process of vegetation is fulfilled. The fibres of the plant become rigid; they cease their office; down below there has been a failure of the vital power, which is the precursor of death. Henceforth the heavenly powers work quick and marvellous changes: the sun paints his superscription on the ears of grain. They have reached the last stage; having fed on the riches of the soil long enough, they are now only influenced from above" (Spurgeon). And when it is thus with the people of God, when the golden light of the Sun of Righteousness shines on them and they are transformed thereby, then the evidence of ripeness is seen, and the season for the sickle has come.
7. God will certainly gather in his people. "Harvest shall not fail" - such was the primeval promise, and it has never failed; nor shall this harvest either. "Look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
II. THE VINTAGE. Under the altar on which was "the fire," over which the angel told of in ver. 18 "had power," were the souls of them that had been slain for the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9). They had asked, "How long, O Lord,... dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And now the answer is given. The vintage of vengeance has begun. For the "grapes" of the "vine of the earth" are fully ripe. It is the judgment of the whole earth, when "all nations" shall be gathered (Matthew 25.) before the Son of man. The square of four - four ever the symbol of the earth - amplified by hundreds, the "one thousand and six hundred furlongs" of ver. 20, likewise point to the universality of this awful judgment. Minor fulfilments - presages, predictions, and patterns of the final judgment - of these there have been many and will be many; but in this vintage of vengeance upon the world's sin all are summed up and fulfilled. But will there be any such event at all? Will Christ "come again to judge the quick and the dead," as the Creed declares? or is it all a myth and imagination, a nightmare, which the sooner the world shakes off and awakes from the better? Many affirm that it is this; many more would like to think so. But what is the truth?
1. Men have ever felt that there ought to be such judgment. See in the Old Testament, m the Psalms, Job, in the prophets, what distress of soul God's people were in, because they feared for the faith of a just God. So many wrongs were perpetrated, and no one called to account. Wicked men in great prosperity, "flourishing like a green bay tree," and all the while godly, innocent men trampled in the very dust by these wicked, well off ones. And many saints of God were heartbroken under the pressure of indubitable facts like these, asking for, and not finding any, redress. Men who were not saints, as they could not find any law of judgment, took the law into their own hands. And hence they added torture to death. For merely to kill a man was no punishment at all. Who would care for that? Death rids a man of all trouble. Make him suffer, therefore, whilst he is alive. So they thought and acted, and hence the whole system of tortures, from the imagery of which some of the most dread emblems of this book are drawn. But the tears of good men, in view of this problem of righteousness unrewarded and persecuted, whilst unrighteousness went not only unpunished, but held high festival; and the tortures inflicted by cruel men when they got a criminal into their hands; - both are testimonies to the conviction that a Divine and perfect judgment ought to be.
2. And now it is declared that such judgment shall be. Conscience assents to it. What endorsements of God's Word the guilty conscience gives. Read 'Macbeth' for one illustration out of thousands more.
3. Human law and justice strive after right judgment. What consternation there is when some great criminal escapes and baffles all means of discovery, and what joy when such are caught and tried and condemned! It is all confirmation of the truth taught by this "vintage."
4. And the judgments that come now on ungodly nations, communities, and individuals are all in proof. History rightly read reveals the truth in luminous light: "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth." This harvest for God's holy ones, and this vintage of those for whom his holy vengeance awaits, are both to be. When the sharp sickles that gather the one and the other are put in, where shall we be found? That is the question of questions for us all to answer. God, of his mercy, give us no rest until we can answer it aright! - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.