The series of angels in the sky continues unnumbered. Two pairs appear. An angel seated on a cloud holds a sickle, and then another angel comes and commands the first angel to reap a harvest. This happens twice, so that the harvest takes place in two stages. The first of the four is not called "another angel" (as in vv. 6, 8 and 9) but one like a son of man. In contrast to the angel with the "eternal gospel" (v. 7), who looked like an eagle or a vulture, this figure looks human. But in contrast to the one "like a son of man" in John's opening vision (1:13), this figure never identifies itself as Jesus. Still, it is tempting to think of this figure as Jesus because it is seated on a cloud, recalling imagery in which Jesus the Son of Man is to come "in clouds" (Mk 13:26), or "on the clouds" (Mt 24:30), and "send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds" (Mk 13:27). Probably the vision is intended to evoke just such images, but without implying that the figure on the cloud actually is Jesus in any literal sense. This figure does not "send" the other angels, but on the contrary takes his orders from the angel out of the temple that follows him (v. 15).
A better interpretation is that both these angels (the last four, in fact) are functionally equivalent to Jesus in that what they accomplish is what he accomplishes: the judgment of the world. This is signaled by the description of the first figure seated on a white cloud (v. 14), as John will later see Christ "seated" on a white horse (19:11) and God "seated" on a white throne (20:11)—settings in which they will execute judgment. The cry of the next angel, Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe (v. 15), echoes the announcement that "the hour" (that is, the time) for God's judgment had come (v. 7). The only difference is that now it is addressed not to humans facing the judgment (it is too late for them), but to the messenger about to carry it out. The messenger quickly does what he is told. Still sitting on the cloud, he swung his sickle over the earth and the earth was harvested (v. 16).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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