Is it discrimination to divide people into groups?
Our lesson this week is based on Revelation 14:14-20. It merges two concepts or interpretations of this section: the judgment/separation of people into two distinct groups, and the harvest, which the writers assume means the 2nd Coming of Christ. Thus, the lesson tries to deal with both topics at the same time but does not provide as much background into why or how the structure of Revelation 12-14 informs these conclusions.
What is the harvest? How does it fit into Revelation’s narrative? What is the context before and after this passage? We will look at this issue in today’s study.
Broad Context for Revelation 14
The context for the three angels’ messages is found in chs. 12-13. The dragon (Satan) in ch. 12 gets allies in the form of a beast out of the sea (13:1-10) and a beast out of the land (13:11-18). The Sea-beast—often noted as a parody of Jesus Christ—persecutes the saints of God (13:7), but the Land-beast is worse. This beast creates an image to or of the first beast that must be worshipped on pain of death. This recalls Daniel 3 and Nebuchadnezzar’s image.
What is the experience of God’s people under the power of the dragon, the sea-beast, and the land-beast? How does Revelation 13:10 offer a warning of what is to come while also being an encouragement: “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people”?
In Daniel 2, the nations of the world were shown to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream as representing parts of an image, an idol, made of different types of metal or clay. But in Daniel 7 and Revelation 12-13, these same types of powers are shown as predatory animals. Why the difference? Why such a contrast in the imagery of the lamb, the land-beast?
Immediate Context for Revelation 14
Immediately after the lamb-like Land-beast in ch. 13, ch. 14 shows the 144,000 faithful saints of God. Originally, Revelation did not have chapter/verse divisions, and there was no real break between chs. 13 and 14. Thus, the people who receive the mark of the beast in ch. 13 on their foreheads or hands are contrasted with the sealed saints of God, the 144,000 in 14:1-5.
What are some of the differences between the followers of the beast and the 144,000? According to the context, how does one become part of the 144,000?
The three angel’s messages are part of the larger context of seven divine beings in this structure:
1st Angel’s Message 2nd Angel’s Message 3rd Angel’s Message One Like a Son of Man coming on the clouds to harvest the earth 1st Reaping Angel 2nd Reaping Angel 3rd Reaping Angel
The lesson this week ties together the 2nd Coming language as well as that of the judgment. Of course the two events are linked together, but Adventists have suggested that before Christ returns, the judgment will be complete for the House of God, that those who claim to be His will be judged by their faith in the blood of the Lamb, and their testimony about what God has done for them. So is Revelation 14 and the two harvests a call to see the 2nd coming, or the judgment, or both?
Read Matthew 25:31-46. Is this parable speaking about the return of Jesus at the 2nd Coming, about a judgment that occurs prior to Christ’s return, or a parable that combines the two? Does it make a difference? (See also, Desire of Ages, ch. 70: The Least of These My Brethren)
Revelation 14:14-20 pictures two harvests—wheat and grapes. The wheat harvest reminds readers of several of Jesus’ parables where the harvest of the earth’s wheat represents those who respond to the gospel. They become ripened for the harvest, the time when their faith and commitment are unshakable. On the other hand, Isaiah 63:1-10 shows the Old Testament prophecy of the winepress of God’s wrath, alluded to by John as well. The proverbial “grapes of wrath” seem to represent the people of God among the nations who rebelled and grieved His Spirit. God’s very robe is stained with their blood. These two harvests shown in Revelation 14 may allude more to a final judgment than to the 2nd Coming as an event.
Much is said about “inclusivity” today. Is God inclusive or exclusive in Rev. 14:14-20? How do we reconcile a God who divides people into groups, then excludes some from His Kingdom, with a culture today that seems to want to include everyone, where belonging is the most important virtue, and maybe more important than virtue itself?
Before Christ returns, all decisions will be made for or against Him. The work of the land-beast brings the issue to the forefront of all humanity. All people will be faced with a decision—do I worship the beast and the image (and maybe save my life now), or worship God and face death now, but eternal life later? It’s a difficult choice. But the faithful of God will certainly be part of His harvest, even if they lose their lives for His sake.