The End of the Age
The harvest is the end of the age.—Matthew 13:39, NKJV
A harvest, both in literal and symbolic usage, applies to the activity of gathering ..in the fruitage of a period of growth. The word is used eight times in the New Testament, always in the metaphorical sense of a spiritual harvest. It occurs 41 times in the Old Testament, usually with the sense of a literal harvest, though some of the occasions appear to have a prophetic significance as well.
In Matthew 13:39 the word “end” is from the Greek suntelia, meaning not a point in time but a period of time. Professor W. E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, states, “The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax.” Thus the implication is that the ingathering of the church of Christ, the “harvest” of this present Gospel or Christian age, is the work of a period of time as opposed to the instantaneous “rapture” anticipated by many Christians.
Two Aspects of the Second Coming
concept of Christ returning a second time is mentioned frequently in two quite
different contexts. Consider these texts:
if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto
myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”—John 14:3
the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the
archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the
clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the
Lord.”—1 Thessalonians 4:16,17
the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then
shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.”—Matthew 25:31
Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord
cometh with ten thousands of his saints.”—Jude 14
It is axiomatic that the Lord cannot come for his saints, as the first two texts demand, at the same time that he comes with them, as indicated in the second set of verses. It is also self-evident that the coming for the saints must precede the coming with them. It is the period of time between these two events that the New Testament styles the “harvest.”
The Word “End” in Matthew 24
The English word “end” appears five times in Matthew 24, representing three different Greek words. Verse 31 does not relate to our current topic; the word “end” there means “outermost part.”
The word used by Jesus in this Olivet sermon in verses 6, 13, and 14 is the Greek telos, meaning a full and complete end and referring to a point in time in contradistinction with suntelia in the disciples’ question of verse 3, referring to a closing climactic period of events.
From this observation, we suggest that the signs of Matthew 24 in answer to the question of Jesus’ followers do not refer to the final termination of events but to those events leading up to that final conclusion—to the “harvest” of the age. The catalog of occurrences in this chapter thus pertains to the specific query of how Jesus’ adherents would know that the time was ripe, not only for the return of their Lord, but for their ultimate deliverance which that return portended.
“And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”—Revelation 14:14,15
From this Scripture it appears evident that this one, likened to the “Son of man,” is the one credited with doing the harvesting. In other words, the harvest must be at a time subsequent to the return of the Lord and not an event in preparation for his return. The “wheat” (children of the kingdom) and the “tares” (children of the wicked one) were not to be separated from each other before this time (Matthew 13:30,38).
Gathering the wheat (representing individuals) into the heavenly father’s “barn” and binding the tares into bundles (representing systems) for future burning (destruction) does not mean that individuals are destroyed forever. They are, of course, destroyed as individual tares in the same way that one can destroy an enemy by turning him into a friend.
In the context of Revelation 14, we observe a series of events listed in chronological order:
The separation of the wheat from the tares, so prominent a part of the parable, is thus seen to be a direct result of the preaching of the “everlasting gospel”—the same gospel that was preached before to Abraham (Galatians 3:8). This message would have the two-fold effect of judging the false system of Babylon and attracting the true saints out of her (Revelation 18:4).
Following this separation the false system would receive its final judgment and destruction, figuratively portrayed as the burning of the tares in Matthew 13:40-42.
When Jesus explained the parable to his disciples, he identified the workers who cause the separation, saying, “the reapers are the angels” (Matthew 13:39). Who are these angels?
The Rotherham translation gives an alternative rendering of this phrase: “the reapers are messengers.” Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word angelos (#32) used here as “a messenger, especially an ‘angel,’ by implication a pastor.” Thayers suggests “a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God.” In the King James Version the word is translated angel 179 times and messenger 7 times.
On two occasions (Matthew 9:37 and Luke 10:2) Jesus talks about the greatness of the harvest and remarks “but the laborers are few.” He follows this statement with the request, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). In these texts it seems obvious that the laborers or reapers are human messengers, the evangelists or preachers of the gospel that are to accomplish this work.
Responsibility of the Reapers
The word “send” in Matthew 9:38 is from the Greek exballo, signifying not a mere delegation of authority but an authoritative command. The word suggests a sense of urgency to the need for reapers. As there was a great work to be done at the time Jesus spoke these words in the harvest, or end, of the Jewish age, so there is likewise a great work at the time of the harvest of the Christian or Gospel age at his return.
This work is the promulgation of a message that would separate the wheat, or true Christians, from the tares, their false counterparts. Although not directly the message of Revelation 18:4, “come out of her my people,” it has that effect. Rather than a direct message of separation, the division of the wheat from the tares is accomplished by the proclamation of the “everlasting gospel.” This gospel message is the plan of God for all mankind in the resuscitation from the dead and the subsequent restitution of man to full perfection and harmony with his Creator. Thus the words of truth act, not like a rod to drive out, but more like a magnet to attract and draw out the true Christians from the stupor of a nominal form of Christianity to a vital personal relationship with Jehovah. A message of love is always more permanently effective than one of fear.
However, there is another work assigned to the reapers. The two-fold nature of the work of the reapers is given in the parable of the wheat and the tares: “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
This secondary work of gathering the tares into bundles for the purpose of burning is here given as one to be accomplished prior to the gathering of the wheat into the barn. However in Jesus’ explanation of the parable, this order appears to be reversed. It is noteworthy in Matthew 13:40-42 that the burning of the tares is the last work of the harvest: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
The harmony between these two expressions is undoubtedly that the gathering of tares into bundles begins before the ingathering of the saints, but their destruction is postponed until the true Christians are gathered home. This is the very process used in the natural Middle Eastern harvests in biblical times. It was necessary to separate the two as the first step, but the tares disposal could await the far more important task of gathering the wheat into the barn.
It is the same message which accomplishes both works. To those who accept the message of the gospel it is a means for separation and ultimate deliverance; for those who do not it is a message of judgment and condemnation. The carrying out of the sentence does not involve the literal eternal perishing of the tare class, but their destruction as tares and the removal of the systems which have held them in bondage.
Old Testament Allusions
Several phrases of literal harvests in the Old Testament are suggestive of illustrations of the harvest of this present time. Space will not permit a thorough examination of these pictures, but we will draw a few short lessons from some of them.
The activity of spreading the truth and the separation of many sincere Christians from sincerely held errors of the past and the organizations that promulgated them has been going on for over one hundred years. There is yet work to be done in this harvest. Let us therefore volunteer to be laborers in the field of our Lord.