Notes (NET Translation)
14 Then I looked, and a white cloud appeared, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man! He had a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
Joel 3:13-14 provides the dual image of harvest and vintage. The one like a son of man is Jesus (Dan. 7:13-14; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7, 12-20). That he is seated on the cloud indicates that the cloud is a kind of throne, not a means of transport. The golden crown identifies him as king of his people (4:4, 10) and his enemies (19:12). The following verses entail that the sickle is a metaphor of judgment (either for or against).
15 Then another angel came out of the temple, shouting in a loud voice to the one seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and start to reap, because the time to reap has come, since the earth’s harvest is ripe!”
The fact this angel is called “another angel” does not entail that the one like a son of man in v. 14 is also an angel. The term merely differentiates this angel from all the other angels in the book. The angel comes from the temple, the presence of God (7:15; 14:17). He does not have authority over the one like a son of man, rather he is relaying God’s command.
16 So the one seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Here in particular the reader must not hear the language “the time has come” and “the earth is ripe” as suggesting that there is a divine schedule of some kind that is now set in motion. Rather this is imagery, pure and simple, pointing to the eschatological conclusion to life on the present earth, which is subject to decay. The imagery, of course, is that of a grain harvest, which, even though not specified as such, may be assumed because it stands in parallel to the next imagery, that of harvesting grapes. (Fee 204)
17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.
Vv. 17-20 clearly narrate the judgment of the wicked. It is debated whether vv. 14-16 describe the judgment of the wicked (cf. Jer. 51:33; Hos. 6:11; 2 Esdr. 4:35; 2 Bar. 70:2), the gathering of the elect (cf. Matt. 9:37-38; Mark 4:29; 13:26-27; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38; first-fruits in Rev. 14:4), or both (cf. Matt. 13:30, 40-43). Regardless, the passage describes judgment from two different perspectives.
18 Another angel, who was in charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to the angel who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes off the vine of the earth, because its grapes are now ripe.”
Previously the altar has been mentioned in connection with the prayers of the saints for judgment on their persecutors (6:9; 8:3-5). If this connection is intended in this verse then the judgment can be seen as an answer to these prayers. This angel is “in charge of the fire” because he has authority to mete out a fiery punishment.
19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the grapes from the vineyard of the earth and tossed them into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
“This description recalls the messages of the last two herald-angels, who spoke respectively of the wine of Babylon’s fornication, and ‘the wine of God’s fury’ that the worshippers of the monster will be forced to drink” (Boxall 215).
20 Then the winepress was stomped outside the city, and blood poured out of the winepress up to the height of horses’ bridles for a distance of almost two hundred miles.
In the OT the treading of the winepress is always a metaphor of judgment (Isa. 5:5; 63:2-3; Joel 4:13; Lam. 1:15; cf. Rev. 14:8, 10; 19:15). It represents a response to the treading of the holy city by the nations in 11:2. The city in this verse is the idealized city of the saints (14:1-5; 20:8-9; 21:8; 22:14-15). The wicked are trampled outside the city because they are not among the elect. The massive amount of blood described is a hyperbolic way to emphasize the severity of the judgment. The Greek translated “almost two hundred miles” literally refers to 1600 stadia (=184 miles or 300 km). This number (4^2 x 10^2 or 40^2, where 4 is the number of the earth [four corners, four winds] and 10 is the number of completeness) may symbolize the completeness of God’s judgment.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.