When Jesus spoke of the rapture as the harvest of the earth, he mentioned the fact that there would be two distinct groups of people gathered together in that day. One group, he said, will be delivered from God’s wrath and experience the resurrection of life into new bodies (or be instantly transformed if still alive), while the other group will be gathered together, bound, and burned as “tares”. In the book of Revelation, this same symbolism is carried through in a fantastic prophecy related to the battle of Armageddon and the rapture of believers.
In Revelation 14, John has a vision in which he looks up to see a spectacular white cloud upon which, he says, “one sat, like the Son of man…” (Rev. 14:14). John actually saw the Lord sitting on a cloud above the earth, and he noticed that he had a sharp sickle in his hand. The Apostle went on to say that an angel then appeared and cried out with a loud voice to the Lord,
“Thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
Immediately after the angel uttered these words we are told,
“And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.”
This highly symbolic vision relates to the harvest of the “wheat” or to the resurrection and gathering together of believers as the Lord describes in Matthew 13. But that’s only half the story. As the prophecy continues, another angel is seen to come forth also having a sickle. To this second angel another one is heard to cry,
“Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.”
The second reaping of the earth is not just another description of the rapture, but it is a second vision of what is going to happen to the “tares” and other nonbelievers (especially the followers of the Antichrist) after the followers of Christ are delivered from God’s wrath into His protection. This is how the Bible describes this event:
“And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
“And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.”
The battling nations at the end of the age ultimately will find themselves attacking and fighting within and around the small nation of Israel. John says that the “winepress” of God’s wrath will occur outside the city of Jerusalem. When Jesus returns, he will first deliver his own people out of harm’s way, which corresponds to the harvest of the wheat as described in Rev. 14:15-16. He will then go forth alone to do battle with all those nations that have dared to attack Israel. The people who have taken the Mark and destroyed the entire earth in world war and nuclear fire then will be gathered together for the final battle into the valley of Megiddo (the Jezreel Valley) and completely annihilated by the Lord himself.
The gruesome account of the God’s wrath in this passage is almost beyond comprehension. The symbolism in the prophecy that compares the fate of the wicked to that of crushed grapes is very appropriate. As the crushing of grapes produces red juice or wine, the crushing of the evil forces by Christ at the end will result in blood so abundant it will literally cover the entire land mass through the main valley in Israel over a distance of about 1,600 furlongs or the equivalent of 200 miles! John’s prophecy states that there will be so much blood it will actually form lakes and pools deep enough to reach up to the bridles of horses.
People often ask why God allows evil to continue in our world without punishment. His patience with evil today is not being uncaring or slack, but is long-suffering; not wanting anyone to perish, but that everyone should come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3:9). One day very soon, however, the evil people of this world will be destroyed from the earth so completely that they will never rise again. The only assurance anyone has of being delivered from the God’s wrath is to become a follower of Jesus and be gathered into his protective care before the dark and terrible Day of the Lord comes. That is an important part of what being saved means. Only by having your sins forgiven and by following Jesus can you hope to escape the coming judgment of God at the Return of Christ (see Escape to Safety).
In fact, the Lord really doesn’t want anyone to suffer and die as a result of evil. When Jesus was crucified 2000 years ago, he took the wrath of God upon himself to save all of mankind. He suffered in our place so that God could forgive us of our sins. Therefore, the only people who will experience the wrath of God are those who refuse to turn away from evil and refuse to follow Christ. At the end of the age, evil will reach a crescendo so great that all life on earth will be threatened. It is at this point, that the Lord returns to rescue his people and exterminate all evil forever.
In speaking of the great things that God has done, Paul reminds us that we should…
“…wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come” (emphasis mine).
1 Thess. 1:10
Some people have the wrong impression of the rapture. Especially those who hold to a pre- or mid-tribulation position wrongly believe that the rapture is designed to deliver Christians from the Antichrist’s reign and the destruction of the Great Tribulation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact that the reign of the Antichrist will be one of the greatest periods of persecution and terror Christians will ever experience, and that the Great Tribulation will make the earth a wilderness of nuclear desolation the likes of which has never happened before, both fates are nothing in comparison to what the God’s wrath will be like for the wicked.
The suffering of believers in this current evil age is only temporary and is at the hands of sinners who can indeed cause us harm or destroy the body, but they have no power afterwards. When Jesus returns, he will raise dead believers into new immortal bodies; he will transform the living ones; and he will restore the Earth to a spectacular Garden of Eden. The evil and persecution that believers had to endure in their past lives will seem like a dream in the ages to come. The Apostle Paul realized this fact and said,
“…the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Isaiah predicted that there will actually come a time after the new universe is created that God’s people won’t even remember this present evil age.
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”
The followers of Christ are destined for everlasting life in immortal bodies that will never again be corrupted. That life will extend through the Kingdom Age (1,000 years) and on into the age of the new heavens and the new Earth. Everlasting life is the same as having life for all of eternity or life ongoing into infinity. A paradise of perfection made for Christ and his people to enjoy forever!
For those who reject Jesus, however, the suffering that they will have to endure because of their evil ways will also never have an end. When God’s wrath falls upon the armies of the world at the Battle of Armageddon and crushes the evil forces into a lake of blood, it is just the beginning of their ultimate fate. Though their mortal bodies will die in an instant when Christ returns to do battle against them, their spirits will never cease to exist. The real punishment for sinners will not be the momentary bodily destruction at the time of death, but will be eternal suffering and the unimaginable terror of being separated from God for all time with absolutely no hope of redemption.
The Bible actually predicts that all those who do evil and refuse to follow the Lord will eventually be raised from the dead, also. Instead of a paradise awaiting them, however, the book of Revelation tells us that they will be judged and if their name is not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they will suffer a second death by being thrown alive into a “lake burning with fire” (see The Kingdom Age for an in-depth discussion of this point). Unfortunately for them, their spirits will never be destroyed in that fire, but they will suffer in flames for all time!
Therefore, the rapture is not designed to merely rescue believers from a brief period of persecution and destruction at the end of this age—no matter how great that Tribulation may be—but is ultimately designed to protect them from God’s wrath and save them from an eternity of unimaginable suffering reserved for the wicked. Paul plainly says,
“God hath not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thess. 5:9
Some misinterpret that statement to mean that God will save us from even having to go through the trauma of the final seven years with the Antichrist ruling the world; however, this view is simply not supported in the Bible. Suffering and death will happen in this present life to all people—including the followers of Jesus. However, the Apostle Paul does offer great encouragement for all those who find themselves in the midst of suffering:
“And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ;
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,
“When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe…”
2 Thess. 1:7-10a
The only real hope for Christians (and for this world) lies in the Second Coming of Christ. When Jesus returns, all evil will once and for all be destroyed by the vengeance of God. Notice how Paul correlates the two major aspects of the Second Coming in this passage. He says that Christ will be glorified in his followers and also punish those who do not obey the gospel when he returns. In every case the Lord is seen coming back at a single point in time—not twice as would have to be true if the rapture were to occur years before his actual coming to the earth. The Bible clearly indicates that at very moment of the Second Coming, the Lord will both rescue his people and begin to pour out the God’s wrath upon a disobedient world.
Therefore, perhaps the best way to describe the timing of the rapture at the end is not pre-, mid-, or even post-Tribulation, but pre-wrath. The Lord will come for his people, yes, at the end of the Tribulation, but more importantly, before God’s wrath falls upon the world.