HEAVEN'S MOUNT ZION
THE SICKLE JUDGMENTS
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Then I looked, and behold, [NU changes a] the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having his [NU adds name and his] Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault [NU omits before the throne of God].
We return now to the linear action of the Great Tribulation in time. Keep in mind that the events of which we are about to read will occur in the exact sequence that they are set forth in this chapter. For quite a while now, we have been looking at the dark side of the Great Tribulation. But, here in chapter 14, we come to a shaft of light. Down below, John has been observing Hell on Earth. But now, God takes him back up to Heaven where he once again can see the wondrous glory of God and his Lamb in the midst of his people. In spite of Satan’s stranglehold on the earth below, all is well in God's Heaven and God’s program is right on track.
In this new vision, John says, I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. Now remember, this is the real Mount Zion. In the Greek, with its article, it could be translated the Mount Zion. This Mount Zion is the original of which the one that is down on Earth is just a mere shadow. As you have it in Hebrews 12:22-23,
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect…
So, it is at Heaven's Mount Zion that this scene is set before us. John saw the Lord Jesus standing on that holy mount. Because Christ was seen standing on Mount Zion, and not seated on his throne, clues us that he is once again on the move. Notice that the 144,000 are there as well. We recognize them because they have his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. You will remember they received that seal back in chapter 7, before they went out into the storm of the Great Tribulation to serve Christ. The fact that we find them up in Heaven now, tells us they have all been martyred. Yet, what a triumphant scene this is! These 144,000 who loved, preached, suffered and died for their Master are now singing to him on Mount Zion. And, their song was at the request of the one whose voice was as the sound of many waters. That, of course, was the voice of the omnipotent Son of God as described to us back in 1:15. As the 144,000 began to sing to their Lord, John says he also heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. Who might these accompanists be? I take it they would be the Church. You will remember that back in chapter 5:8, the elders, who are representatives of the Church, were holding harps. So, I don’t feel it is much of a stretch at all to say that you and I are scheduled to take part at this happy occasion by way of manning the instruments.
The 144,000 sang, as it were, a new song. Truly it will be a great privilege for the Church to accompany the new song of the 144,000 before the throne, before the four living creatures, and before the elders on that future day. Verse three says they sang a song that belonged exclusively to the 144,000.
May we step aside again here for a moment? The Lord loves for his people to sing new songs to him. Repeatedly, in the Psalms, the Lord requests for his people to sing … a new song. New songs come from the heart and God loves that. They cannot be sung by mere rote. Make up a song, dear saint, and sing it to him. Any song, you say? Sure. Go ahead. Any new song will do. It doesn't even have to rhyme if it comes from your heart and he will love it.
Coming back to our text ... here in verse four, we are given a good deal more information about the 144,000 that we were not told back in chapter 7. We read:
…These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. Some people try to explain this statement by saying that it simply means these 144,000 males are pure and single-hearted fellows. However, I see no reason to take it for other than what it says. That is, that they are indeed virgins who have not defiled themselves with women. Now, let me explain what I mean before I get myself into hot water for making such a politically incorrect statement. Think about it for a minute. What kind of women do you think will inhabit the earth during the closing days of the Great Tribulation? They will be ungodly wicked ones, right? Hooking up with one of those gals would, in fact, truly defile a righteous man. All the godly women will, for the most part, have been removed, either by at the Rapture or by being hunted down and killed by Antichrist … or they will be camped out in the wilderness at the place of refuge. And, believe me, these fellows will be far too busy serving Christ and getting the Word of God out to have time for romance and marriage. Their ministries for Christ will be their dynamic, hectic, dangerous and short-term obsession. They will only be interested in doing their job. Hence, indeed, they will all be virgins to a man. It would be well for us to remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition to us believers today along these same lines,
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none… First Corinthians 7:27-29
Every and every one of the 144,000 will have carried out this admonition to the letter. They went out to minister for Christ as virgins. They died as virgins. They were single minded in purpose and they didn't allow themselves to become entangled with the wicked women of Antichrist's dark kingdom to which they were preaching. A very wise pastor I once knew, who lived and ministered for Christ well into his nineties, said that over the years of his ministry he had observed that there were three things that remove good men from the ministry … pride, money, and women. The 144,000 will escape all three of these pitfalls. May the Lord multiply their like in the Church, today.
…These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. The devotion of these fellows to Christ will be on display for all of Heaven to see. They are enamored with their Savior. They follow him around like puppy dogs. Won't that be a wonderful sight, to see such a congregation of Jews adoring their Lord and Messiah? We will see it one day, when we encounter Christ's 144,000 and accompany them in their new song to the Savior.…These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. This word, firstfruits, is a word that speaks of a greater harvest to follow. The fact that these 144,000 are designated firstfruits means that a much greater harvest of the Jewish people is yet to come. As you have it in Romans 11:26,
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ’The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob…
…And in their mouth was found no deceit. Deceit means to be crafty, sneaky and disingenuous. These fellows are true blue. They embody God’s original design for his people to be the righteous people of God. Nathaniel was such a Jew. When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, he said to Philip,
Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit. John 1:47b
The 144,000 will be a 144,000 Nathaniels! By the way, the company that you and I will keep in Heaven is going to be amazing! What a great delight it will be to make the acquaintance of each and every one of these 144,000 men of integrity as we live together with them in eternity.
Let's step aside for a moment. How many of these fellows went out into the Great Tribulation? 144,000. Right? How many do we find standing here on Heaven’s Mt. Zion singing to the Lamb? 144,000. Our God certainly is able to keep of his own, is he not!? 144,000 went into the Great Tribulation and 144,000 have arrived safely in Heaven. Jesus keeps his own, beloved. Let's take a minute to look at some of our Lord's great promises to that effect in the Scripture. Job said,
For he performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with him. Job 23:14
The Psalmist said,
The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; do not forsake the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. John 10:27-30
The Apostle Paul said,
In him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise… Ephesians 1:13
…being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ… Philippians 1:6
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day. Second Timothy 1:12
The Apostle Peter, speaking of those who are Christ’s, said,
…who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. First Peter 1:5
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25
One hundred forty-four thousand started out down on the Earth and a 144,000 arrived safely home in Heaven and so will you and I, dear child of God. That's because it is God who does the keeping, you see. And, we can take that to the bank. He never loses a single one of his own.
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth; to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people; saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water. And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon [NU adds the great is fallen, is fallen and omits that great city, because she] which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of his indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints; [NU omits here are those] who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.’
No one who lives through the Great Tribulation will ever be able to accuse God of not giving them a chance. In addition to the testimony of the 144,000 and God's two witnesses, the world in that dark day will also receive the testimony of three separate angels whom God will send to circumvent the globe and preach to each and every Earth-dweller during the final closing hours of that age. God will send forth one preaching angel, one proclaiming angel and, finally, one warning angel. Let’s look at them.…The first angel John saw flying through the skies (heaven here refers to the skies of Earth), had the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth. Incredible! In the closing days of the Great Tribulation our gracious and merciful God will send forth his angel to preach the everlasting gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all Earth-dwellers until every last soul has clearly heard the good news of the salvation that is available to them in Christ Jesus! This has got to be the greatest instance of amazing grace that the world will have ever seen. Truly, as the Psalmist repeatedly exclaims in Psalm 136,
His mercy endureth forever... (quoted repeatedly) 1b,2b,3b,4b,5b,6b,7b,8b,9b,10b,11b,12b, 13b,14b,15b,16b,17b,18b,19b,20b,21b,22b,23b,24b,25b,26b
Now, for millennia, the Church has been involved in carrying out the Lord’s commission to go into all the earth and preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19). However, she has never been completely successful. In fact, during some ages the Church has been a complete flop at getting the Word of God out. She has failed in the past and will fail again in the future. Our own generation will fail, as well. We will not get the Word of Christ out to every creature of our own generation. The 144,000 will also take their best shot, even giving their lives for it, but they too will come up short. Ultimately, it’s going to take an angel from God to complete the job. I believe it was this very angel with the loud voice that Jesus was thinking of when he said,
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14
It will be impossible for men and women not to listen, when God sends forth his angel with the loud voice preaching the everlasting gospel.
…The second angel went forth crying, Babylon the great, is fallen, is fallen. When Antichrist seizes Jerusalem at the middle of the Tribulation, there is a good deal of evidence here in Revelation that he will literally change the city's name to Babylon. The name, Jerusalem, means city of peace. Babylon is a name derived from the Akkandian, babilu. It means gate of God. Since Antichrist will declare that he is God, and insist that he be worshipped at the temple at Jerusalem, it makes sense that he would choose the ancient name Babylon, the gate of God, for the name of his capitol city and center for his blasphemous worship. As we have previously noted, Babylon was the first kingdom to introduce counterfeit religion on Earth under King Nebuchadnezzar, when that ancient king had a statue of himself built and decreed that all his subjects were to bow down and worship it. When Antichrist seizes Jerusalem and renames it Babylon, he too will have his statue and require that all must fall down and worship it … epitomizing the long tradition of man-worship in the Kingdom of Darkness which began so long ago at ancient Babylon. However, before Babylon's final demise, Earth-dwellers will be graphically warned of its inevitable destruction by another of God's proclaiming angels. Though the city itself won't literally fall until the pouring out of the seventh Bowl, this angel will circumvent the globe and proclaim it as already fallen. By this bold proclamation, he will be emphasizing the certainty of Babylon's fast approaching destruction which, time wise, will be only hours, or at most, days away. What an amazing warning that will be! This proclaiming angel’s ominous and prophetic declaration will, no doubt, place a huge question mark in the minds of Antichrist worshipers in that day. I can almost hear them thinking, What's he talking about? Perhaps the Holy Spirit will answer in their hearts, You know what I'm talking about! God's proclaiming angel will be speaking the Word of God to them, you see. This warning is in line with the Scripture's statement in Romans 4:17b,
…even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were…
…The third angel that went forth, proclaimed, If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on their foreheads or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God. You can't help but think again here about how gracious and merciful our great God is. During the very last hours of the Great Tribulation, he will still be sending out warnings to men and women in hopes of they will repent and turn to him. First Timothy 2:4b, says,
…who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Let's look a bit further at the important elements of this final warning by God’s angel. He warns:…If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of his indignation. That’s telling it like it is, brother … no holds barred. This angel will loudly declare to every Earth-dweller in that day that those who receive the mark of the Beast will be made to drink of the wrath of God full strength. This message, at that late hour, is an indication that people can still be saved and remove the beast's mark, by the way. It will still not be too late. However, he warns that those caught with that mark at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ will experience God’s wrath undiluted, without a drop of mercy and with no way of escape. Psalm 75:8, says,
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and he pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.
…and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. Jesus told a true story in Luke 16, about a rich man who died and woke up in Hell. The scripture does not say that this was a parable. It is a graphic illustration of what this angel is referring to. The “Hell” that Jesus was referring to is not the Lake of Fire. Rather, it is the temporary holding place of all of the wicked dead. The Lake of Fire, which this angel will be warning of, is the permanent home of the wicked dead. The Bible describes it as a horrible place that is to be avoided at all cost. It was originally created and reserved for Satan and his demons. In chapter 20, we read that hell and death will be cast into it.
...in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. The visibility to the wicked of God's Lamb, accompanied by the presence of his holy angels, will no doubt greatly increase the suffering of the damned. There, in all their naked unrighteousness, they will be fully exposed to the gaze of the Holy One and his holy angels. In Proverbs 8, Christ speaking as Wisdom incarnate says,
Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the LORD; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death… Proverbs 8:34-36
…And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Thus, he will forewarn Earth-dwellers of the eternal nature of the punishment that Antichrist worshippers can expect. Eternal, conscious damnation is not a popular concept today, by the way. It's not in the playbook of political or even ecclesiastical correctness. Yet, Jesus and his Word speak of it openly and specifically. In Mark 9:43-44, Jesus said,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched; where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
The angel concluded his message saying … Here is the patience of the saints; who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. I suspect that this will be a great consolation for those who will be on the receiving end of Antichrist's persecution and murder … when they hear these words proclaimed from the skies by this awesome angel. They will assure them that their trials are only temporary but their tormentors will suffer forever in the Lake of Fire ... and that a dramatic reversal of circumstances is just around the corner. It will only be a matter of time and only require a bit of patience.
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, [NU omits to me] ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’
In the Psalm 116:15, it is written, Precious in the eyes of the Lord are the death of his saints. That is also reflected in these words as well. This exclamation pours out from the heart of God the Father and from the Holy Spirit and is directed at his suffering people who are paying so great a price for believing in his Son during those awful future days of tribulation. Had we been able to actually hear these words as they were spoken, I believe we would have heard great empathy and concern in their inflection as he said, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. This statement from the Father was immediately followed by an Amen from the Holy Spirit. I believe that many a suffering Tribulation saint will take comfort in these words as they pour over their Bibles in that day. The Holy Spirit, knowing the good things that await those saints adds … that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them. Jesus’ words in Luke 6:21-23, comes to mind here...
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
May we step aside for a moment and think a bit about the Person of God’s Holy Spirit, as He is revealed here?
First, notice that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not an “it.” He is the third person of the Trinity. All through the Scriptures, the Spirit is referred to by personal pronouns.
Second, notice that he has a will, intellect and emotions. For example, he can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
There is no room in Scripture for the notion that the Holy Spirit is any less a person than the Son or the Father. He is no mere force, as many have erroneously taught. Nor is he a mere quantity that someone can get more of … like pouring water into a glass. You either have Him or you don't (Romans 8:9). His personality is clearly demonstrated here by his words, ‘Yes,' says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’ This is a statement from someone who is speaking from their heart. Sadly, there is a great deal of confusion today about the person, work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, ’Thrust in your sickle and reap, for the time has come [NU omits For you] to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. So he who sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
We come now to a new vision and it is, perhaps, the most sobering one in all the Bible. It answers the question posed in Hebrews 10:28-29,
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (KJV)
Before we get into it, let's lay a bit of ground work. The harvest of the souls of men can be divided into two broad categories. The first category is the harvesting of the righteous and the second is the harvesting of the wicked. These two groups are not harvested together nor will all the individuals in either group be harvested at the same exact point in time. Here, in the last vision of chapter 14, we come to the first batch of the harvest of the wicked. And, since we are back into the linear action of the Great Tribulation, these events described here must take place immediately prior to Christ's literal descent to the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Because of the difficulty this passage presents, many commentators interpret it as merely a preview of the great battle of Armageddon described much later in chapter 19. However, Armageddon does not fit here at all. It would be entirely out of sequence. Everything in this passage points to the fact that this is the harvest of wicked Israel. This harvest will occur immediately following the global warnings of God's three proclaiming angels and just prior to the commencement of the Bowl Judgments. I believe it is set here in stark contrast to the godly 144,000 Jews found just a few verses back. John the Baptist forewarned Israel of this impending judgment saying,
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Matthew 3:11-12
When Christ judges ungodly Israel one day, He will harvest them out of one of two realms. They will either come from the Jews on earth who are still alive at the end of the Great Tribulation or ... as a second source … they will come from resurrected Israel (Dan. 12:2) … all Jews from all time all of the way back to the beginning of God's dealings with them as a people. I believe this is what is pictured here in its two phases. In the first part of the vision, John saw, One like the Son of Man upon a white cloud. This is the same name for Messiah that John used back in 1:13. It is the Old Testament Messianic title for Christ from Daniel 7. No mistake about it, it is Christ who is sitting on the white cloud. His Messianic title is the first evidence that this vision concerns the nation of Israel. Further, he is seen wearing a crown (singular), which points to the fact that he is functioning here as a king rather than the King of kings. He appears here as the King of Israel who will shortly be placed on the throne of his ancestor, David. The Greek word translated crown here is στέφανον (stephanon, from stephanos). It is a word that refers to a victor’s crown. In sharp contrast to the mocking he received by the Jews at the cross because of his claim to be the King of the Jews … Jesus, will appear at this time as their indisputable King indeed. By way of contrast, when he comes to judge the whole Earth and to rule the nations, he will be wearing many diadems (Revelation 19:12).
John says he had a sharp sickle in his hand. J.B. Smith, an early expositor of Revelation, says that this Greek word, sharp, is used sixteen times in the New Testament and it is always used in a negative and uninviting sense. Sickles are frequently associated with judgment in the Bible. Joel 3:13-14, speaking of this very event, says,
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
What we are observing here is the fulfillment of that very prophecy. The word, ripe, in verse fifteen, is a Greek word that literally means dried up or withered. It indicates that the recipients of this judgment are long overdue. Now, let’s look to see if there is any scriptural basis for the future harvesting of wicked Israelites off the earth and taking them off to judgment. Here, we will need to look at the teachings of Jesus concerning wicked Israel and carefully compare his words from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42 and 24:37-42.
Another parable he put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up? But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Matthew 13:24-30
Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, 'Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.' He answered and said to them: ‘He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:36-42
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:37-42
The Jews were the people of whom and to whom Jesus was speaking in all three of the passages above. Who did he say would be taken? His teaching is clear. It is the unrighteous Jew who will be taken and gathered out of his Kingdom at the end of the age. They will all find themselves suddenly removed (harvested) from off the earth ... ultimately to be cast into the furnace of fire. It is the godly Jews who will be left on Earth to meet their Messiah at his coming and enter into his kingdom with him. This is a very important concept to get a hold of.Now, God has been in a continuous covenant relationship with the Jewish people from the days of Abraham. His Mosaic covenant with them, the Law, contained both blessings and curses. For example, in Deuteronomy 11:26-28, we read,
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
At the cross, God instituted the New Covenant with his chosen people, the Jew, sealed with the blood of Christ. In the closing days of the Great Tribulation, Christ will resurrect and judge his Jewish people according to whether they were wicked or righteous and in accordance with his covenants with them. Those Israelites who lived their lives under the Old Covenant will be judged by the standards of the Old Covenant. Those who lived their lives under the New Covenant will be judged according to the standards of the New Covenant. As you have it in Daniel 12:23,
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
This is the subject of John's vision here of the two sickles. In the first step, Christ, the Judge of Israel, will cut off all the withered fruit from his vine, Israel, that remaines down on the earth … differentiating between the ungodly and godly like a gardener hoeing weeds from his garden. This is pictured here when Christ thrusts in his sickle upon the earth. Notice that there is no product of that reaping mentioned, just the statement that the earth was reaped. I believe this will include both the resurrected Jews ... who will find themselves staring up at Christ as he descends from the sky ... along with all the wicked Jews who are still alive at the end of the Great Tribulation. Together, they will all behold the beginning of Christ’s very visible and glorious return. Then, suddenly, they will all be cut down by Christ.
Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’ So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.
This is the second phase of the judgment of unrighteous Jews. It is the gather by Christ’s angels of the already cut down, dry and rotten clusters that Christ has cut off and simply await to be gathered by his angels and taken away to the place of judgment. This second phase of the harvest of wicked Israel will culminate in great carnage. John saw an angel come out of the temple in Heaven carrying a sickle. The fact that he emerges from the temple is a reminder that he has received his orders from within the Holy of Holies itself. All judgment begins with God and is in accordance with his holy character. A second angel from the altar of sacrifice and burnt offering called to the one with the sickle saying, Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth. The fact that the second angel calls from the altar of sacrifice reminds us that those who are about to be gathered and taken away to judgment have not responded to their God in faith and have completely rejected the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that was so repeatedly pictured at this altar under the Old Covenant. Notice that the harvest by the angel with the sickle is said to be a gather of the clusters of the vine of the earth. This phrase, vine of the earth, adds further weight to the case that what we are looking here at here is the judgment of unrighteous Israel. The picture of Israel as being God's vine is a prominent one in the Old Testament. Psalm 80:8, 14-15, says,
You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you have cast out the nations, and planted it." "Return, we beseech you, O God of hosts; look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine and the vineyard which your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for yourself.
Jeremiah quotes the Lord's speaking to Israel as follows,
Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before me into the degenerate plant of an alien vine? Jeremiah 2:21
This is the judgment of that vine … specifically, the judgment of its over-ripe clusters of its rotten fruit at the end of the Great Tribulation. The cleansing away of these withered, rotten clusters will be the final step in the Lord’s refining of his covenant people in preparation for his return to deliver them and to fulfill his promise to them of a kingdom on Earth. As you have it in Zechariah 13:8-9,
And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God. (KJV)
John says the severed clusters were cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God. As I see it, these things will take place in the following order:
First, all wicked Jews who have ever lived (newly resurrected or currently alive at that time) will observe Christ’s Second Coming but will then be immediately cut off by Christ. The Son of Man, seen here as thrusting his cycle over the earth, is probably referring to the exercise of his Word. This is when Jesus’ words to Caiaphas will be ultimately fulfilled.
Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, 'He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!' Matthew 26:64-65
Did you notice that Jesus specifically told Caiaphas that he would see him coming on the clouds of heaven? That can only occur at, or at the very beginning of, Christ’s Second Coming.
Second, all these wicked Jews will be carried away by Christ's gathering angels … taken away bodily … to judgment. As to Caiaphas’ case in particular, he will one day be suddenly resurrected … find himself gazing up at the Son of God in the glory clouds of Heaven … and then, experience being suddenly cut down and extracted from off the earth by Christ’s angels.
Third, we read that the severed clusters will be cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God. In Luke 17, Jesus said that ungodly Jews would one day be snatched from the earth. That passage has great bearing here. His disciples asked him, where, Lord? His answer was clear. Let’s read it.
Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left. And they answered and said to him, ’Where, Lord?’ So he said to them, ’Wherever the body is, there the eagles [vultures] will be gathered together.’ Luke 17:36-37
Jesus’ answer to his disciples as to where they would be taken is specific. He said that they would be taken to a place of slaughter where vultures were waiting. Spiros Zodhiates, in his work The Complete Word Study Dictionary, defines the Greek word used for eagles above as, An eagle or vulture, a species of rapacious birds represented as preying on dead bodies where some species of vulture is probably intended. In the book to the Hebrews, the Jews, under their New Covenant, were warned over and over again of the severe judgment that they would receive if they turned away from Christ and spurned the blood of his new covenant with them. As you have it in Hebrews 2:3,
How shall we [Jews] escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him…?
Following Jesus teaching that ungodly Jews will be caught out of his kingdom and taken away to judgment, it follows that their judgment will take place somewhere other than on Earth. You will recall that this chapter opened at the city in Heaven. I take it therefore, because of the context here, that the city spoken of in verse twenty is still the Heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly Jerusalem. Apparently, the judgment of wicked Israel will take place within eyesight of the very city whose gates bear the names of their twelve tribes and that should have been their eternal home. What a terrible judgment that will be. The scene before us truly answers the question as to what punishment should be appropriate for those who have trampled the Son of God under foot and counted the blood of the covenant a common thing and insulted the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). These wicked Jews will be snatched bodily off the Earth and will then be unceremoniously trampled underfoot by the Son of God in the winepress of the wrath of God. I say, bodily, because, ultimately, all judgment of all the ungodly will be a bodily judgment. Jesus confirmed this in Matthew 5:29-30, when he said,
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (KJV)
Our text says that, as a result, blood ran up to the horses' bridles for sixteen hundred furlongs. The picture here is of the notch-like gully that was chiseled below a winepress where the wine would run out as the grapes were pressed. Blood however, will run from this winepress. I expect this trench will be five or so feet deep and run for approximately two hundred miles. To account for that much blood, I did some calculations based on the amount of blood in a human body. This probably is unduly gruesome and graphic, but I felt it was necessary to show the possibility and reliability of these amazing statements in the Word of God. A one foot wide ditch running for two hundred miles at the depth of say, five feet, (the approximate depth of horses' bridles) would equal 5260 feet times 200 times 5 times 1 foot. Such a gully would have a capacity of 5,260,000 cubic feet. Rounded to 5,000,000 cubic feet and then multiplied by approximately eight quarts per cubic foot, such an outlet would hold 40,000,000 quarts of liquid. 40,000,000 divided by 6 (assuming approximately six quarts of blood per human body) means that it would take 6.6 million people to produce that volume of blood. More than likely, there will be more people than that in this winepress of the wrath of God. The warning from the writer to the Hebrews comes to my mind here, does it not?
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31
I make no apology for this. It is what it is. It is a terrible mistake to assume that God is not a God of judgment.
One last thought … Daniel 12, says that the resurrection of Israel will occur all at one time and will include both righteous and unrighteous Jews. So, not only will all the unrighteous Jews of all time meet him at the Second Coming (to be cut down and then extracted from off the earth) … but all the righteous Jews will meet their Messiah at his Second Coming as well (to proceed on in with him into is Kingdom). So, on the positive side, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, David and Bathsheba … and countless other Jews, will be resurrected to greet their Messiah and enter with him into his Kingdom. In sharp contrast, what a joyous occasion that will be for all of them.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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