There were two harvests in the geo-economic life of physical Israel. One in the spring and one in the autumn/fall. The spring harvest was for the grain. The autumn/fall harvest was for the olives and the grapes. These two harvests are incorporated into the Jewish festivals.
The festival of Passover marked the beginning of the Jewish religious year/calendar. However, even though there was a fixed date (14th Abib/Nissan) for the beginning of the Passover, this date was sometimes adjusted if the conditions were not right. In order for the conditions to be right, the harvest had to be ready. If the harvest was not ready the Passover was delayed until it was ready. By this arrangement the importance of the harvest was emphasised, and the connection between the harvest and the ceremony was meant to be understood. The connection between the harvest and the ceremony, introduced the concept of ‘first fruits’ for the participants in the ceremony to ponder. The concept of ‘first fruits’ was taught by incorporating the ‘wave sheaf’ ceremony into the celebration of Passover. This is why the harvest had to be ready before Passover could begin. A sheaf of grain (usually barley, because it matured first) had to be harvested from the ripe fields and waved before the Lord, in the temple, as a ‘first fruits’ of the harvest. However, the wave sheaf ceremony had a deeper spiritual meaning. It represented the ‘first fruits’ of the dead. After Jesus died on the cross, and was laid in the tomb, He rose again three days later. When Jesus died He was the antitypical fulfilment of the Passover Lamb. When He rose from the dead, the wave sheaf was being waved before the Lord in the temple – He was the antitypical fulfilment of the wave sheaf. Jesus is called the ‘first fruits’ – because He was the first to be raised from the second death – “now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). In the sheaf of grain there were many kernels. These many kernels represented the many people who were raised with Jesus (see Matt. 27:52, 53).
The second harvest takes place at the end of the Jewish religious year/calendar. This harvest is celebrated during the Festival of Tabernacles. The Bible tells the same things in different ways. These festivals are intertwined with the former and latter rains. The former rain harvest occurred during the spring festivals. The latter rain harvest occurred during the autumn/fall festivals. The festival of Tabernacles, was when the Israelites left their homes and built themselves temporary dwellings elsewhere. It took place at the end of the autumn/fall harvests and it was the most joyous of all the festivals. It represents the people of God, leaving their earthly homes and joyously dwelling temporarily in heaven, before returning to the earth at the end of the thousand years.
The antitypical festival of Tabernacles occurs when the people of God are ‘harvested’ at the end of the preaching of the three angel’s messages. They stand without fault before the throne of God, and all of heaven and God’s entire universe celebrate their redemption with them. But before they are ‘harvested’ by the angels with the sickles, they witness judgments on the wicked, in the form of the seven last plagues.
The Close of Probation
The Jewish festivals also had a close of probation. Just five days before Tabernacles, the Jews were called to ‘stand’ before God, on the Day of Atonement. This was the end of the religious year. It was at this time that it was determined if those who ‘stood’ before God (afflicting their souls see Lev.23:29), were worthy to pass the scrutiny of Atonement and proceed to the end of the religious year, by participating in Tabernacles. Or would they fail the scrutiny and be ‘cut off’ from among the people (see Lev. 23:29). The Day of Atonement was the day, that heralded, the close of probation for the people.
When God sent judgments upon the earth in the form of the Trumpets, the purpose of these judgments was to get the people of the earth to repent and accept Jesus. However, it is stated that:
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues (trumpets) yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. Rev. 9:20, 21.
Even though it is stated that they repented not, the fact that they repented not, means that they could have repented. In other words, repentance was possible and he topportunity to be saved was possible, should they so choose. However, this is not the case with the seven last plagues. The beginning of the seven plagues marks the end of salvation. Jesus finishes the antitypical Day of Atonement in heaven. He takes off His High Priestly robes and the administration of grace and mercy, to repentant sinners is over – probation for the whole human race has closed and there is no more opportunity to be saved – the antitypical Day of Atonement is over.
Smoke Fills the Temple
The seven last plagues indicate that probation is over, because smoke fills the temple. When the first temple was dedicated under the tutelage of King Solomon, the approval and presence of God was indicated by a cloud filling the temple (see 1 Kings 8:10, 11). However, as the angels bearing the vials full of plagues, come out of the temple, the temple fills up, not with a cloud, but with smoke:
And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled. Rev. 15:5-8.
The cloud represents God’s presence, His grace, mercy and salvation (see Gen. 9:13-16; EX. 13:21, 22; 16:10; 19:9). The smoke represents God’s absence (no access for sinners), His wrath and judgment (see Deut. 29:20; 2 Sam. 22:8, 9. Furthermore, it is stated that because the temple is full of smoke, “no man was able to enter into the temple.” In other words, no sinner would be able to ‘enter’ – no sinner would be able to find or approach God – the long period of salvation offered to all mankind is over – probation has closed – “the smoke of their torment” (Rev. 14:11), is about to begin.
Vengeance is Mine Saith the Lord
The seven last plagues are not just judgments, they are also God’s vengeance. Many people have questioned God’s dealings with humanity. Even the heroes and faithful of old, had questions about God’s patience with the wicked. David wrote, “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Ps. 145:8). But even David had trouble understanding why God’s mercy lingered so long. When he observed how the wicked prospered, he almost lost his faith (see Psalm 73). Others have had the same query. Jeremiah felt that God was being too gracious to the wicked:
You, O Lord are [uncompromisingly] righteous and consistently just when I plead my case with You; Yet let me discuss issues of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are those who deal in treachery (deceit) at ease and thriving? Jer. 12:1. Amplified Bible.
The Apostle John, heard the same concern from the martyrs, that had been slain “for the word of God,” they were asking, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9,10). They were told to rest a little longer, because it was still not time for God to act – grace and mercy, were to linger a little longer. God has been listening to the righteous cry out since time began, even the ‘earth’ has been crying out for justice and judgment (see Gen. 4:10; Matt. 23:35; Ps. 9:19; 82:1-8; 110:6; 119:84). However, God ‘told’ the souls under altar that they had to wait – God has a timeline and the time for justice, judgment and vengeance was yet future – before that time could arrive, the close of probation had to take place.
Before the close of probation, the principles of love, grace and mercy applied in God’s Kingdom. God’s love, grace and mercy, were available to all who sought and accepted it. Not only was God’s love, grace and mercy available to all the world, but Jesus taught us that we should apply the same principles to our neighbors and the unsaved. Jesus said; “love your neighbors” – “love your enemies” – “turn the other cheek” – “forgive those who trespass against you” etc. etc. But this love, grace and mercy liberally showered upon the world, prior to the close of probation, does not apply after the close of probation.
After the close of probation, the role of Jesus changes. He takes off His High Priestly robes and puts on His Kingly robes. Love, grace and mercy for the wicked world is now over. God has always warned the world, that He would not acquit the guilty. God has told us, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Nahum 1:2).
We Reap What We Sow
The golden rule states that we should: “Do unto others as you would them do unto you” – this is a Biblical principle to live by. But this principle can also be turned around and reversed and stated thus: “If you do unto others, you will have it done unto you.” In other words, God will not be mocked (He will not ignore, He will not forget), we will reap what we sow (see Gal. 6:7, 8). We have already encountered this principle included in the judgment against the sea beast: “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword” (Rev. 13:10). In other words, what the sea beast has done unto God’s people – the same will be done unto him. The same principle applies to those who suffer the seven last plagues. God’s vengeance does linger, but when the people fill up their cup of iniquity, it is time for God’s cup of wrath to overflow. But God’s wrath is not random, it is measured. One of God’s principles, that operates in His universe, is that we reap what we sow. Jesus reiterated this principle in His sermon on the mount:
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Matt. 7:2.
If we repent and accept the cleansing blood of Christ, we are ‘measured’ grace, mercy and forgiveness. But if we refuse the cleansing blood, we are ‘measured’ what we deserve. If we accept the cleansing blood of Christ, the punishment that we deserved, falls on Christ. If we refuse the cleansing blood, the punishment we deserve falls on ourselves.
This reaping and sowing principle is very much a part of the seven last plagues. These plagues fall on the wicked of the earth, because of what these people have done – the punishment fits the crime – the punishment is measured in proportion to the evil perpetrated.
The First Plague
The first plague is God’s judgment on those who received the mark of the beast. Those who refused to be spiritually ‘marked’ by God (accepting the seal of God), are now physically ‘marked’ by God:
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. Rev. 16:1, 2.
The Second and Third Plagues
The second and third plagues are the plagues of blood. The waters of the earth turn to blood. The wicked have proven to be ‘blood thirsty’ – in response they are now given blood to drink:
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea. And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. Rev. 16:3, 4.
This judgment whereby the wicked of the earth are punished with blood to drink, is not just because of the ‘bloodletting’ they have participated in (or approved of), it is a judgment on the whole edifice of Babylon. This is because the great Babylonian system has been responsible for all the bloodletting from the beginning of time:
For her (Babylon’s) sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double…Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her… And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. Rev. 18:5, 6, 20, 24.
Just as the leaders of Israel, had to bear the guilt and punishment of all the blood shed by their forebears (see Matt. 23:35, 36), because they would not accept the forgiveness offered, so too, the last generation suffer the consequences of all the blood shed by their forebears, because they also refuse the forgiveness offered to them. Giving the wicked blood to drink is also an explicit example, of the ‘measured’ response and the reaping what we sow principle – the angels comment about how appropriate God’s sentence upon the wicked is:
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea. And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments. Rev. 16:3-7.
In this case, the wicked have been given blood to drink, because they are guilty of shedding the blood of God’s people (see Rev. 17:6; 18:24; 20:4). They are reaping what they sowed. And this is the case with all the plagues. Each plague is designed as a specific answer to the specific iniquities and abominations perpetrated by the wicked.
The Fourth Plague
Scripture tells us, that humanity, “became vain in their imaginings and their foolish heart was darkened” – and because they no longer knew God they – “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:21, 25). The worshipping of creation was centred on the worship of the sun. Even God’s own people were seduced into sun worship and its idol appendages:
After the children of Israel were settled in Canaan, the influence of the idolaters by whom they were surrounded, turned them from the true God, to the worship of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and also to the worship of graven images made of gold and silver and wood and stone. Thus they transgressed the commandments from heaven that had been given for their own good. The loving heart of God was grieved as he saw the chosen nation led away from their creator and benefactor, into a course of action tending toward ruin. Ellen White, Christian Experience and Teachings p. 238.
In spite of all God’s efforts, the inclination of God’s people to be seduced into sun worship has persisted down to modern times. The very day of worship, has been changed into the day of the sun. Sunday has even become the ‘mark’ of the modern-day iteration of paganism’s authority. It has been elevated above the law of God. It has been heralded as the evidence that the ‘Church’ has the authority to change the law of God. In response God uses the object of their worship to punish the idolaters:
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. Rev. 16:8, 9.
The Fifth Plague
Just like the ancient sun worshippers, the modern iteration of sun worshippers have ‘darkened hearts.’ In other words, they had become so foolish, that they have claimed to be the ‘light.’ But the opposite is true, they who claim to be the light are actually in the dark. Jesus said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (Jn. 12:46). Therefore, those who are not the true followers of Jesus, do not have the ‘light’ they can only have darkness. Jesus also said:
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! Matt. 6:23.
The power that prevails in the last days, the power that enforces the mark of the beast is a satanic evil power – it is Babylon the great. It is said of this power:
And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Rev. 18:1-5.
Babylon is the personification of evil, masquerading as the ‘light.’ Jesus promised us that all things that hide the truth, will be exposed (see Lu. 8:17). Therefore, God in response to the claims of great light, envelopes the counterfeit light in darkness. Which is exactly what the modern iteration of this long chain of ‘darkened hearts’ claims to be. God is grieved that His people would reject the true light of the world and accept the darkness of the world, as if it is the true light, therefore, in response He envelops the seat of the beast in darkness:
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain. Rev. 16:10.
These plagues are not only severe they are also accumulative. When each plague falls it does not necessarily mean that the previous one has finished. The plagues are accumulative because when the fifth plague brings the darkness, the people are gnawing their tongues because of pain. But darkness does not produce pain. But sores produce pain. Therefore, it is evident that the people are still suffering from the outpouring of the first plague.
The plagues are accumulative but they are not universal – they are not world-wide. It is reasonable to suppose that God would judge that some regions of the world were worthier of punishment than others. There is evidence that God’s judgments and His punishments are proportionate to the degree of offending (see Lu. 12:45-48). If the plagues were universal, no one would survive:
These plagues are not universal, or the inhabitants of the earth would be wholly cut off. Yet they will be the most awful scourges that have ever been known to mortals. All the judgments upon men, prior to the close of probation, have been mingled with mercy. The pleading blood of Christ has shielded the sinner from receiving the full measure of his guilt; but in the final judgment, wrath is poured out unmixed with mercy. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 628.
The beginning of the seven last plagues mark the end of probation. The outpouring of the plagues means that God’s grace and mercy for mankind is over. The role of Jesus changes from High Priest to King. Jesus is no longer pleading for sinners before the throne of the Father. The restraining power of the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the world. The world is in chaos and confusion. And then come the most terrible scourges the world has ever seen, and the end of the world is nigh.