(14) Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.
The details of this vision point to the Lord and Savior. He appears in many ways in the visions of the book, each allowing us to behold certain aspects of his nature and identity (1:12-17; 5:5-14; 6:2; 12:5; 19:11-21; 21:9). Here, he is seen as the good harvester. The fact that he is seen sitting on a white cloud is evidence that this scene is about bright and glorious things, not dark things; this is not a dark cloud of judgment. Here he is seen with a golden “stephanos,” that is, a crown of victory. There is brilliance to the picture of him on a white cloud with a golden crown. He has overcome, he is victorious, and now, he has a sharp sickle in his hand in order to gather the harvest of the fruit of his labor.
(15) And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” (16) So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Another angel came out of the temple. This not the earthly model, but the place of God’s throne in heaven (11:19, 14:17; 16:17). This will be the first of two angels which will come out of the temple (14:17). This first angel only acts by means of giving a message to the Lord on the white cloud, saying “put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” It is the Lord, himself, who is shown to reap those who are “fully ripe.” This is the good fruit of a good harvest, and it is shown in contrast to the fruit which is trodden underfoot in the following scene. There is much parallel here to the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” The gathering of the good seed, which is the sons of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38), does not necessitate the end of their physical lives, but the removal of them from the judgment of Christ against the sons of the evil one. “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.” (Matthew 13:41-42).
(17) Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. (18) And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” (19) So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
This second angel also comes from the temple “in heaven,” and he has a sharp sickle like the one the Lord had. The Lord had harvested his elect into the barn, which this angel is focused on reaping the sons of the evil one. The figure of the winepress of God is not new. Jeremiah used it of Judah, personified as a virgin daughter who had become entangled in the filthiness of harlotry. She was trodden by the Lord in his winepress (Lamentations 1:15), and we immediately get the idea that the grapes of wrath are the blood of the unfaithful. This happened in Jeremiah’s day, and was happening again in John’s day, because of the promised curse upon the people who neglected the word of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:33), that they would be crushed. Isaiah gives us a terrible image of this (Isaiah 63:1-6), with the garments of the Lord stained with the blood of the of wicked,
“I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.” (Isaiah 63:3-4).
We will see a similar image of this in 19:13-21, when the Lord turns from the judgment of the old covenant people to tread all the other wicked nations in the winepress of his fury.
(20) And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
The significance of the statement “outside the city,” is another point of reference that this is a judgment against Jerusalem. It was “outside the city” where the Lord’s precious blood was shed (Hebrews 13:11-14) by the rebellious old covenant bride. And it would be “outside the city,” as a figure of speaking, that they received the Lord’s retribution, with the spilling of their own blood.
In Old Testament history, before it was “outside the city” it was “outside the camp.” It was outside that you would find the flesh of bulls burning on the ash heap (Leviticus 4:12). Outside the camp was the abode of the unclean, the diseased, the menstruating, and those who have touched a dead body (Numbers 5:1-3). It was the covenant breakers that were to be taken “outside the camp” in order to be killed (Numbers 15:35-36). And so, here we have the Lord taking the covenant breakers “outside the city,” as they had wrongfully taken him.
“As high as a horse’s bridle.” A terrible image of the magnitude of the judgment and slaughter of the old covenant people. While this is not a literal picture, the vision illustrates the vast amount of old covenant people who were found guilty by God. On a literal note, the slaying of people in Jerusalem and Judea is recorded by Josephus in several places, each being a very gory affair. In one place, Josephus wrote,
“They ran every one through whom they met with; and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies; and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed, that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these mens blood.” (Josephus, Wars, 6.8.5).
“1,600 stadia.” I’ve seen many commentators point out that this is the approximate distance of the land of Judea, which sounds good, but I don’t see how we can use this number literally, the text does not suggest that we do anyway. Instead, lets dwell on the figure as one of great scale of four, four, four, and four, i.e. foursquare. This is a number of full completion! Not one escaped the judgment of the Lord.