By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace (Matt 13:40-42).
I love agriculture. As a young person I spent summers with my grandparents living on the farm in Iowa. I learned patience watching the corn grow. I learned to drive stick-shift on a tractor. The Apostle John’s images of rural life speak the language of my youth.
Picturing judgment as a harvest, where the wheat and tares are separated and the tares burned, evokes both a message of patience and a reminder of justice. Harvest is a joyful time because for most of human history food was scarce. At the time of Napoleon, French soldiers were noticeably shorter than other Europeans because they starved—agricultural workers in France could not work an entire day for lack of energy. They were not alone. The practice of fasting during Lent is pre-Christian and evolved out of the reality of a lack of food at the end of winter in most of the pre-modern world. Tares were a threat to one’s life as well as one’s livelihood. In this context, burning tares—what we call weeds—is just.
Revelation 14 reports three signs. In the first sign (vv 1-5), we see the lamb and the 144,000 singing a new song—a song reserved for the redeemed. In the second sign (vv 6-11), three angels announce God’s judgment on Babylon (think Rome) and those that follow the beast. This includes a graphic picture of what God’s wrath will look like (vv 10-11). In the last sign, we see two more angels welding sickles used as instruments of judgment with grapes and a winepress adding to the graphic imagery of this judgment.
What is interesting is that these images of judgment remain part of John’s vision. The key verse is: Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Rev 14:12). We are given a glimpse of the future in order to inform our behavior today—endure, keep God’s commandments, and remain faithful.
The sickle and winepress images are an allusion to: Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great (Joel 3:13). The sickle allusion brings to mind the use of the hammer and sickle image by communist states in our own time because they were officially atheistic regimes. Their downfall highlights the paradox of Christianity—Satan was defeated at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the world is the church growing faster than in these formerly atheistic states. The conversion of Rome was equally dramatic.
In both case, just when things seemed the darkest, God intervened.
- What are the three requirements cited in v 12?
- List the three signs cited (vv 1-5, 6-11, and 10-11).
- What is the allusion with the sickle? (Joel 3:13)
- What is the teaching on the wheat and the tares? (Matt 13:40-42). How is Revelation different?
- What is the paradox of the cross?
- What is the new song being referenced in v 3? (Isaiah 42; Psalm 33, 40, and 144; Rev 5)
Chapter 14 of Revelation: The Wheat and the Tares
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