above by John Armstrong: I took this photograph at sunset on the shores of
is a most happy fact, solving a complex and warmly debated problem with ease
and finish, that, if a single phrase in the Apocalypse
- wheat - is a symbol of the Church, a graded removal of the Church from earth,
a removal in sections, passes out of the realm of discussion into that of
certainty. This symbol is the
Now the first key-fact of the drama is that the scene
opens heaven, and that all the actors in it - the
Lamb, the First-fruits, the Angels - move in and from the heavenlies. The proofs of this are unmistakable. (1) Christ is in the heavenlies. I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing (Rev. 14: 1): the Lord does not
descend to earth until the nineteenth chapter, and even later in this very chapter,
when, as Reaper, He casts His sickle to the earth (5:
14), He is still seated on
Parousia-cloud in the heavenlies. The
Lords title throughout His sojourn in the heavenlies is The Lamb:
the Son of Man is His title on descending to the earth. (2) Jerusalem throughout the
Apocalypse never means the earthly Jerusalem; and Mount Zion below, so far from
being occupied by Christ - who does not descend upon it until after the Vintage
pictured at the close of this chapter - is, at this moment in the grip of the
murderous Antichrist (Rev. 11: 8): the Mount
Zion here named is, therefore, the mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12: 22) to which we have
already in spirit come. (3) The Firstfruit company
sing before the throne, and
before the four living creatures and the elders (14: 3)
and the Throne of God is indisputably in heaven.* Heaven, from which the sound comes (v. 2), includes the
the other key-fact in the drama is the inescapable identity of firstfruits with
harvest. If the firstfruit is holy, Paul says, so is the lump (Rom. 11: 16) - the crop from which it is cut: that is, if the Firstfruits
are a heavenly body, so also is the Harvest a heavenly body, although still on
the surface of the earth. For it is
impossible to deny that the Firstfruits and Harvest in this chapter each relate
to the other, as the first-cut and the later-cut of one body of wheat: beyond
the sharply numbered firstfruits stretches the unnumbered and innumerable
harvest. Thus all is exactly square with
all other Scriptures. For as the fig stands
* The Harvest is the ingathering of the Good, the ingathering of the wheat into the heavenly barn: the Vintage is the crushing of the wicked (Bishop Wordsworth). So Bengel:- By means of the Harvest a great multitude of the righteous, and by means of the Vintage a great multitude of the ungodly, is removed from the world: the Vintage is expressive only of wrath, the Harvest is entirely of a gracious character.
So then the sole obstacle to a divided reaping - namely, the theory that the Firstfruits are Jewish - collapses. For no Jewish body is ever removed from the earth at all. Wheat is so characteristic of the Christian that it could not be a symbol of an earthly people: its fragile stalk, dying to earth as it ripens heavenward, so unlike the rooted, luscious grasp on earth of fig or vine; its annual relays moving off the field in successive pilgrim generations; its value as the supreme food for man, even as the Church is the supreme satisfaction of God; its lack of what, to the world, would be pleasant fruit - fig or grape: wheat is manifestly created to be Gods kindergarten of the Church; and the theory that this body of redeemed on high is Jewish, under investigation, melts as a mist in the sun, or a fog swept by a sea-wind.*
* How clear minds could ever
have confounded the earthly First-fruits
(Rev. 7: 4) with the heavenly Firstfruits is one of the mysteries of Apocalyptic interpretation.
For it would be difficult to find two groups of the saved more radically
distinguished by explicit statements of Scripture. The one group is in the earth, the other is
in heaven: the one is named as Jews, the other is named as catholic: the one is drawn from the
Twelve Tribes of Israel, the other from among men - mankind in general: the one escapes
into the wilderness (Rev. 12: 14) the other into the heavenlies: the
one is stationary in the desert, with Christ as the Jehovah Angel, the other
moves freely everywhere, with the Lamb: the one is sealed in the forehead as a miraculous
safeguard against assassination (Rev. 9: 4),
the other is named in the forehead in a realm where assassination is
impossible. The virginity of the Lambs body-escort
is also profoundly un-Jewish; and redemption from the earth, as
Therefore the stupendous fact now confronts us - not an inference, nor a doctrine, but a photograph - that not all the Church is reaped into the heavenlies at one swing of the scythe. Between Firstfruits and Harvest yawns an ominous drama. Between the Firstfruits reaped on high, and the Harvest still uncut on earth, successive judgment Angels proclaim wrath on the threshold, the accomplished overthrow of Babylon, and the Mark of the Beast at the doors, followed by a dirge (or elegy) of the Spirit over a sudden burst of martyrdom - all events that are close to the opening hours of the Great Tribulation; and the Harvest is still uncut. The Firstfruits, garnered we are not told when, but earlier, are, as Dean Alford says, choice ones among Gods people, and not the totality of those who shall form the great multitude that no man can number. It is a significant fact that there has never yet been a rapture except of conspicuous saints. Without question, there is pre-eminence in being the firstfruits of the heavenly harvest. They are not all the saved. The very word indicates that there is much more to follow. Nor are they the mass of the saved. Theirs is the first resurrection, of which we read in chapter 20. - that resurrection of the dead which St. Paul calls the resurrection, and the mark toward which he pressed, if by any means he might attain unto it (Phil. 3.). Infinite mischief is done by the belief that all will be equally blessed, equally honoured. (Pulpit Commentary).*
* Our Lord is in their midst, and is also firstfruits (1 Cor. 15: 20) - thus proving that firstfruits are composed of dead, and not only of living, saints; and, as reaped two thousand years earlier, the Ascension divides the cutting even of first-cut: for the 144,000 are not the firstfruits, but firstfruits (no article) - a section of a far vaster throng: but each in his own order - group, company, flight; Christ the firstfruits, then they that are Christs in His Presence (1 Cor. 15: 23) - in successive reapings during the Parousia. Resurrection accompanies each rapture, both being embodied (Rev. 11: 11, 12) in a single graphic example. The peculiar nature, history, and functions of this particular group of first-cut saints lie outside the scope of our present article.
The moral lesson now stands forth (as designed) in all
penetrating power. For the grain is
reaped solely according to its ripeness.
Earth-removal depends, for the servant of God, on spiritual maturity, as
exactly and as inevitably as harvesting is dated, not by the farmer, but by the
grain. The Lord had already warned us of
this momentous principle, in His description of the ripening Church. First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear: but
when the fruit is RIPE, immediately he putteth forth the sickle, because
the harvest is come (Mark 4: 29).
So the identical phrasing is used here.
Send forth thy sickle - the sickle is sent, for it is an
intelligent scythe of falling angels - and reap for the hour to reap - an hour which
depends solely, on the maturity of the grain - is come; for the harvest of the earth is OVER-RIPE (Rev. 14: 15); rather, perfectly ripe, so that the stalk is dry
(Alford). Wheat which never ripens would be a blasted field: but the
*A broad hint that the corners of the field, which according to the type (Lev. 23: 22) must be reaped later than harvest, are uncut until the neighbourhood of Armageddon is contained in the characteristic Church warning, - Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments [works: cf. Rev. 3: 4, 18] lest he walk naked, and they see his shame (Rev. 16: 15).
So now we reach the momentous fact carefully designed to revolutionize our whole Christian life. Maturity in the spiritual realm is grace perfected in the character; and the critical alternative unfolds before us either of maturity gained now by grace, or a forced growth under judgment. For firstfruits is not only a time-word, so that if reaped simultaneously with harvest, it is not firstfruits; but it is also a quality-word, for firstfruits (in Scripture) are invariably the pick of the crop (Num. 18: 12), peculiarly holy to God, and to be carried bodily into the House of God (Neh. 10: 37). So of the Christian Firstfruits moral excellence of the highest order is stated they are without blemish (Rev. 14: 5): whereas the Harvest, although ripe at last, has no special excellence, as wheat, stated; and its maturity, unlike that of the Firstfruits, is a maturity not due to rapidity in reaching perfection, but is produced by the slow and painful process of burning heat - the harvest of the earth is dried up. As the Firstfruits are two baked loaves (Lev. 23: 17), burnt edible - so ceasing to be raw grain - through an earlier suffering with Christ, so the Day of the Lord burneth as an oven (Mal. 4: 1), thus baking its Loaves: the fierce sun of the Day of Wrath, penetrating grain which avoided the earlier fires, destroys earthliness in the wheat at last. The root cause of maturity is fundamentally the same in both - made perfect through suffering.
So the urgency of the issue, its summons to sanctity, our practical peril - all lodge in selective rapture alone the rousing truth without which the warnings of God on unwatchfulness fall flat and unheeded. We are exotics ripening for another soil; and sun-ripe wheat, rather than forced hot-house growth, is Gods ideal: for it is not the pressure of coming judgments, nor any inherent necessity that we should escape the coming perils - martyrs have had as bad - which is the determining factor compelling removal, but a principle quite other - our fitness for the heavenly garner.* And how solemn are the facts! In spite of the huge cataclysm of the War, with which God shook the world, it is a fact past all denial that the great majority of the Christian groups treat the Saviours return with derision. Is this ripeness for the sickle? Nothing short of Tribulation horrors will shock the main mass of the converted into maturity at last.
* The blade is the green sprout of a living profession of Christ, a proof past all doubt of vital standing in Him; but it is not the fruitful ear, much less the full corn in the ear; and men do not reap blades. It is a decisive confirmation of the interpretation here given that, in the Feasts of the Law which are a complete history in type of the redeemed under grace, wheat (as ever) is the symbol selected for the Church, and the Feast of Harvest (Lev. 23: 9-22) reveals a carefully graded reaping.
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