After showing John the spiritual conflict that motivates Christian persecution and the truth that the beast of the sea and the beast of the land will come against God’s people (Rev. 12–13), the Lord shows John many truths to encourage him and his readers in these difficult days. Thus, Revelation 14 reveals the fall of governments that persecute believers and the sure blessing of those who die in faith (vv. 1–13). The chapter concludes in today’s passage with an assurance of judgment on those who reject the Savior.
Joel 3:13 is a key background text for Revelation 14:14–20. The vision that John sees builds on what the prophet Joel foretold. However, there are some difficulties in today’s passage, most notably the relationship between verses 14–16 and 17–20. Some commentators believe verses 14–16 refer to the harvest of the righteous, of those who receive eternal life because they are in Christ, and verses 17–20 depict the judgment of the wicked, amplifying what is said in the preceding verses. Others believe that the entirety of verses 14–20 concerns the judgment of the wicked. It is difficult to be sure which view is correct, but we will assume that the entire text concerns the judgment of the unrighteous.
The key lesson we are to take from this text is the surety that those who persist to the end in sin and in rejection of the Lord and His standards will certainly be repaid for their wickedness. This will be done at just the right time, for the harvest—the judgment—can occur only when the crop is fully ripe (v. 15). Sometimes we can get discouraged when we see evil men and women prospering, when we see the wicked continuing to oppose God with no apparent consequences. At such times, we must remember that the wicked endure no longer than God has ordained. He will harvest—judge them—once their evil has ripened. What might look like a delay of justice is, in fact, no delay at all. God will bring an end to wicked people at just the right time.
In verses 17–20, the wicked are likened to grapes that are crushed to make wine. This image comes from Isaiah 63:1–6, where God tramples on the wicked just as grapes are trampled for their juice. The Lord’s trampling sheds enough blood to flow for 1,600 stadia, or 184 miles. This stresses the thoroughness of divine judgment. When the Lord judges the wicked, none will escape.
God will perfectly judge the wicked, doing so both at the right time and with the thoroughness that is required. This gives us hope, for though we see evil people succeed for a time, we know that they will certainly answer for their deeds. It also allows us to leave vengeance in the hands of the Lord. He knows far better than we do how to repay the wicked for their deeds.