Bible Study with Jairus – Revelation 14

Honing our God-Given Gifts

In Revelation 14, John saw some vivid images about harvest. John recounts, “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.” (Revelation 14:14). The man “swung his sickle across the earth” to reap the earthly harvest (Revelation 14:15-16). Later, we read about another angel who used a sickle to gather clusters of grapes from the vine and to throw them into the great winepress of the wrath of God (Revelation 14:18). What do these symbolic pictures mean? How do we understand the pictorial language of the harvest, the grapes, and the great winepress? Do they have positive or negative connotations?

I believe that the harvest image has positive connotations, while the grapes are negative. They represent wheat and tares respectively, which in turn represent real and fake Christians. Although we do not know when the Lord will come back, we know the harvest is near. The wheat will be separated from the tares. God has given us each spiritual gifts, which he expects us to use. Like a harvester sharpens his sickle, God wants us to sharpen our gifts through constant practice.

Understanding pictorial language

One of the difficulties in understanding the book of Revelation is that it uses so many abstract and pictorial images. This often leads to a variety of misinterpretations.

Let’s look at an example of spiritual language. It is claimed that one of the founders of Google had a dream about an algorithm. Let’s assume that God gave him this information through his dream. Even though the founder had received the algorithm, he still needed to translate the information into a practical application before he could use it to create Google’s search engine. To turn an idea or concept into a finished product, a complex process is required. An idea—whether for a new phone, a new car, or something else—needs to be translated into a design. Then materials need to be selected and the production process needs to begin.

Let’s use this example as a metaphor for spiritual language. A complex idea or picture (such as those in Revelation) needs to go through a transformation process. It needs to be converted from concept to understanding and finally to application in the real world.

The sickle is a pictorial language

The concept of the sickle is an example of abstract, pictorial language. The son of man did not actually throw down a physical sickle from heaven. If it were a physical sickle, we’d have to ask lots of questions: How big is the sickle? What material is it made of? Where is it thrown?

But if it is a spiritual metaphor, we can ask other questions. What does the sickle represent? What was God’s purpose for including it? Viewing this passage as pictorial language will help us understand the entire book of Revelation.

The sickles used by the son of man and the angel are real spiritual sickles used for harvesting the earth. How does God reap? Does he reap the earth by himself (with the angel’s help), or does he need our cooperation? We know that evangelism requires human cooperation, and we can conclude that reaping is the same. God has given each Christian a spiritual gift: love, power, leadership ability, etc. These gifts can become your sickle, which will help you reap a mature harvest.

To understand the spiritual, pictorial prophecies in the Bible, we cannot just understand them in physical terms. For example, in one of my prophetic dreams, I visited heaven and received a Bible that was sweet to the taste. But I didn’t expect to receive a real, physical, edible Bible in my house. I knew that the dream represented God’s provision. It helped me understand that the Bible is nourishing and sweet, “sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

However, this dream did have an impact in the real, physical world. Every time I read the Bible, I ask for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and light to help me interpret the Bible. When I share my inspiration with others, they are nourished and fed. The book of Revelation tells us that John ate a small scroll, which was sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach, and was able to prophesy to many nations, peoples, and kings (Revelation 10:8-11). John did not receive a real, physical edible Bible, but his vision did have an impact in the physical world as he preached to those around him.

Similarly, the sickle’s spiritual and metaphorical meaning can be converted into the physical world. We must use the inspiration, thoughts, and gifts that God has given us to impact the real world around us. We don’t need to passively wait around for God to harvest the earth. God is throwing His sickle in heaven today. We need to use prayer and faith to receive the sickle that God has given us and make that sickle sharper through constant use and practice.

God has called me to minister His word, so I must sharpen this calling and use it to the best of my ability. When I neglect to study and prepare for a Bible study I lead, I feel like I don’t receive much inspiration from God’s Spirit. I’m letting my sickle grow dull. But when I pray earnestly, prepare, read many spiritual books, and ask God to enlighten and help me, I am sharpening the gifts God has given me.

The Bible says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (ESV, Proverbs 27:17).[1] Similarly, any gift that God has given us must be sharpened. God has given us many spiritual gifts. Just as our muscles grow stronger through constant use, we must use our gifts so they grow stronger.

Every time I lead a Bible study, I pray earnestly as I prepare. I do not rely on the knowledge and content I have prepared. Rather, I look to the Holy Spirit to answer the questions that my audience asks. When I do this, I am often inspired by the Holy Spirit and gain a new understanding of the Bible. In this way, I continually sharpen the gifts God has given me.

What is your “sickle”? Are you gifted in loving others? Then use your gift of love to visit a friend, bring him the warmth of friendship, and share God’s words with him. Perhaps you will lead him to salvation! This is your sickle. If you don’t follow God’s leading to visit this friend, your sickle may rust at home.

Are you gifted in prayer? Do you pray often for certain countries or people? This is also a sickle that God has given you. If you neglect to pray because you are too busy at work, you are leaving your sickle at home to rust.

If your gift is mercy, God may want you to use your gift by caring for homeless people. This is your God-given sickle. When you pay them a visit on the street, you’re sharpening your sickle.

We live in the age of harvest. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). We are God’s harvesters, and God has given us sickles. We need to sharpen them. Are you unsatisfied with your sickle? Use the one you have, and ask God to give you another one. As you are faithful in small things, God will surely give you more responsibilities.

We as Christians can participate in the harvest, but there’s another aspect of the harvest as well. I don’t deny that the angel will use his sickle to directly reap the earth. The angels will separate the wheat (real Christians) and tares (fake Christians or the wicked). Many people wonder why so many Christians have tragically passed away in the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps one explanation is that they were mature and ready to be harvested by God. God brought them into his presence. In addition, some wicked people were reaped by the angels and taken to hell.

Wheat and tares

To understand pictorial prophecy in the Bible, it’s helpful to understand the usage of those pictures throughout Scripture. This will help broaden our understanding of the metaphors and images in Revelation. For instance, how does the Bible use the image of “harvest” throughout the Bible? Is this image positive or negative? Jesus mentioned the harvest in Matthew 9:37 with a positive connotation. The Lord Jesus likened Himself to a grain of wheat (John 12:24), another positive association for this harvest theme. Wheat is good, while tares and chaff are bad (Matthew 3:12). The Lord Jesus told Peter that Satan would sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22:31). From these verses, we can see that wheat is used positively to refer to Christians.

Now let’s look at the picture of gathering grapes. Is this picture positive or negative? In the Bible, there are good and bad grapes. The Bible says that sour grapes make one’s teeth set on edge. God wanted Israel, the vine, to bear good grapes. But the nation only bore bad grapes. When God came to see if the vine had borne fruit, it had not (Luke 13:6). Grapes can be either good or bad.

Jesus also used the fruitless branch as a metaphor, saying that such branches are to be gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. Jeremiah 2:21 says, “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” Isaiah 5:2 says, “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” From these passages, we see that there are both good and bad grapes. Some grapes are even poisonous! Deuteronomy 32:32 says, “For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter.”

The grapes mentioned in Revelation 14 are placed in the great winepress of God’s wrath. I conclude that these grapes have a negative connotation. Verse 20 mentions that the grapes were trampled outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 300km. The grapes in the winepress represent the judgment of the wicked.

During the harvest, tares and wheat are separated. Good and bad grapes are separated. The righteous are reaped into heaven and the wicked into hell. The Lord Jesus also said that the righteous would be gathered into the barn, and the wicked would be burned. Jesus used a fishing metaphor to say the same thing. The righteous would be taken into the boat, and the unrighteous would be thrown into the sea (Matthew 13:47-50). The sea represents judgment and hell. In the last days, the angels will reap the earth. They will separate the righteous and the wicked. God uses consistent metaphors and images to discuss the final judgment.

There is very little controversy among Christians about the meaning of the harvest metaphors. But other prophetic images are more difficult to understand. For example, how should we understand the profound and controversial references to the beast, the statue of beast, the dragon, the woman, etc.? To understand these concepts, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We also need an understanding of the principles I outlined above. I hope to share more about how to understand these pictorial images in later studies of the book of Revelation.

We must sharpen our sickles

We live in the age of harvest. If the harvest was already ripe when the Lord Jesus was alive, it is now even riper! Throughout the ages, countless Christians have given their own blood as the price for spreading the gospel and sowing the seeds of the gospel. Many years ago, people in various places hadn’t heard of the Bible or the name of Jesus Christ, but today it’s different. Take China as an example. Hundreds of years ago, many had never heard of Jesus Christ. But now almost anyone can find the Bible and the story of Jesus Christ online. The gospel has been spread through various media channels. Some people have not yet accepted the gospel, and they doubt its validity. But it is available for those who are receptive.

A hundred years ago, when Christian missionaries from the West came to China to preach the gospel, many had never heard of the gospel or the name of Jesus. Today, even though there is still a lot of resistance to Christianity among the Chinese people, information about the Bible and the Gospel is easily accessible on the Internet. This is the power of the information age. In the past, the government could destroy or restrict the reading of the Bible, but now it is almost impossible to do so. Because everyone has a smartphone, and the Bible has been produced in various forms (PDF, EPUB, and various apps), it is impossible for the Bible to be banned. The seeds of the gospel have been sown. It is time for the harvest to be reaped.

The number of Christians is declining in many Christian countries in the West. But the seeds sown by their godly ancestors will continue to grow. A great revival is coming. Many people will be brought into God’s kingdom.

I personally believe that we are getting close to the end of the age. We must be open to the Holy Spirit and be sensitive to the sickles (gifts) that he has given us. We must be ready to accept God’s calling and gifts and sharpen our sickles through constant practice. Then we will participate with God in reaping a ripe harvest.

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.