Now the time has come. It is harvest day; the earth will reap what it has sown. The harvest climaxes the drama of the interlude (Revelation 12-14) and prepares us for the final act in the drama, the seven bowls of wrath (Revelation 15-16).
Interpreters are divided. Are there two harvests or only one in this text? Most believe that there is a single harvest that judges the inhabitants of the earth while some believe that there are two harvests, one (14:14-16) that harvests the followers of the Lamb (in-gathering) and the other (14:17-20) harvests the worshippers of the beast (judgment). Whatever the case, the general point is clear–God accepts martyrs as firstfruits and the inhabitants of the earth experience God’s wrath.
Two harvests, however, makes some sense. The first harvest does not meantion wrath like the second does (14:19). One “like the son of man” harvests the first group while an angelic figure harvests the second. Two different harvesters probably representes two different harvests. Further, harvest imagery was used earlier in the chapter to describe the martyrs on Mt. Zion before the throne of God, that is, they are the firstfruits offered to God and the Lamb (14:5). Martyrs are the firstfruit of a coming harvest. Revelation 14:14-16 may be that harvest. Like grain, the sickle in the hands of the “one like a son of man” reaps the harvest.
The identity of the “one like a son of man” also encourages a two harvest understanding. Some believe that this simply a reference to another angelic figure, but others think it refers to the Lamb. It seems to me that it is unlikely that John would identify Jesus as “one like the son of man” in Revelation 1:13 only to use the same designation of an angelic figure in Revelation 14:14. In fact, the other angels in this section are specifically identified as such (“another angel”) but this is “one like a son of man.” That designation seems to identify the person, that is, it refers to the resurrected though slain Lamb, Jesus the Messiah.
Further, this “one like the son of man” comes seated on a white cloud. There is a regal flavor to this description reminiscient of Revelation 1:7 which promises that the Messiah will come on the clouds both to receive his people and to judge the earth. More importantly, this figure wears a stephanos (a victory wreath). This one stands with the martrys as one who wears the same headgear that they do. The Lamb is a victor along with the martyrs. The faithful witness has come to harvest his followers. As Revelation 14:13 makes clear, the Lamb blesses and gathers his faithful witnesses.
The second harvest is the gathering of grapes which are crushed in the “great winepress of God’s wrath.” The grapes are ripe and it is time to cut them from the vine. The angel who announces this harvest comes “from the altar,” and this reminds us that the altar is where the incense was offered to God which was the prayers of the saints. This harvest is a response to prayer.
The imagery of a grape harvest for judgment is not uncommon. A good example is Joel 3:13 where we are told the “harvest is ripe” and that the winepress is so full that its vats overflow as the grapes are trampled. Similiarily, the wine vats overflow and become a river of blood that is about six feet high and extending for nearly 200 miles. The apocalyptic image highlights the devastating results of God’s judgment. God will trample the nations like grapes in a winepress and the effects of that judgment will be visible for all to see.
The two harvests envision two destinies. In one the Lamb will reap the earth and harvest his followers so that they might share in his victory. It will be their victory as well as they overcome the beasts. The other harvest is a dreadful picture of ripe grapes trampled by the wrath of God. Their produce is not wine but blood.
The message, at lesast in the context of the whole of chapter fourteen, is clear. One may ultimately stand with the victorious Lamb before the throne of God or one may be crushed by divine wrath in the winepress of God’s judgment. The two harvests are two destinies.