In Revelation 14:14-20, as in ancient Israel, there are two harvests. The grain harvest comes before the fruit harvest.
We know that verses 14-16 refer to the grain harvest because of the word for ‘ripe’ in verse 15. That word really means ‘dry’. Only grain should be dry at the time of the harvest; we expect our fruit to contain plenty of juice.
Christ often spoke about the grain harvest in his parables (stories). He chose it as a word-picture to describe how God saves his people (see, for example, Matthew 13:1-43). That word-picture has special reference to how God will rescue his people from this world, at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39).
That seems also to be the meaning of Revelation 14:14-16. Christ comes in the clouds, as he said in Mark 14:62. He is still a man, but he has royal authority.
However, this is not yet the return of Christ to rule the world. Instead, he has come to collect his harvest from the world. The sickle is the tool that farmers used to cut the ripe grain.
Christ’s harvest, of course, means his people. He needs to gather every one of them into the safety of heaven. God cannot punish good people with wicked people (Genesis 18:25). So the terrible judgements at the end of the age cannot happen until they are all safe.
For the last 2000 years, God has waited patiently for people to turn to him (2 Peter 3:9). That is like a farmer who waits for his whole harvest to be ripe. Or, it is like a judge, who waits for the proper day to issue his judgement.
When that day comes, God will act. There will be no more delay. He will save his people, and he will carry out his judgements.
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© 2016, Keith Simons.