The Eschatological Harvest
and the Man of Sin
Kurt M. Simmons
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul mentions a “gathering” of the saints unto the Lord at his coming:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” (II Thess. 2:1)
In this article we will attempt to identify what this eschatological “gathering” was and how it was accomplished.
Old Testament Origins
Most, if not all, of the sacred feasts of the
Jews had redemptive and eschatological significance, looking forward
to the time when man would be loosed from the bondage of sin and
death and receive his heavenly inheritance.
Among these, the Jubilee was perhaps foremost.
Every fifty years, on the Day of Atonement, the Jews were
commanded to sound trumpets throughout the land and every man who
was indebted or under bondage was freed to return to his paternal
possession and family.
(Lev. 25:10, 11; cf. Lev. 16) A man’s paternity was his family’s
ancestral land, granted in the original enumeration of the
“In that day the Lord with his sore and great and
strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even
leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is
in the sea…And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord
shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of
Egypt and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet
shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in
Leviathan was the world civil power opposing
the people of God, bringing the scourge of captivity and death, here
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31)
Figurative Use to Describe Eschatological Harvest
The word “gather” both here (Matt. 24:31) and in II Thessalonians is from the Greek “episunago.” The root of this word (sunago) occurs in several passages where it is used figuratively in an agricultural context, describing the eschatological gathering of God’s people. Thus, John the Baptist said “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather (sunadzei) his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:11, 12)
Similarly, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus used the term, saying, “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 (sunagagete) the wheat into my barn.” (Matt. 13:30; cf. 40, 41)
The “burning up” of the chaff and tares occurred in the destruction of the Jewish state and polity in A.D. 70 as prophesied by the Lord. (Matt. 23-25; Mk. 14:62; Lk. 23:27-31; cf. Zech. 14:1-3; Mal. 3:2; 4:1-5) But, what about the eschatological gathering of the saints, to what did this refer? It cannot point to preaching the gospel and gathering believers into the church, for sowing the seed of the kingdom refers to preaching and the harvest to the end of the age. (Matt. 13:36-43; cf. 1-23) Hence, something else must be in view. We would suggest that the eschatological gathering pointed to the harvest of the saints by martyrdom in the persecution under Nero and the Jews. This is readily seen in the imagery of Revelation chapter fourteen.
Revelation Fourteen and the Harvest of the Earth
Revelation chapter fourteen portrays the
harvest of the earth.
In Revelation, the “earth” is set in contradistinction to the “sea.”
The earth is a symbol for
After warning against succumbing to the inquisitorial power of the beast and false prophet (vv. 9, 10), we read: “Here is the patience of the saints…And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” (Rev. 14:12, 13) The assurance of blessing and rest after their trials and martyrdom is followed by the image of Christ reaping the earth with a sickle: “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 harvest of the earth is ripe.” (vv.14, 15)
The marginal rendering of the term “ripe” is
“dried,” reflecting the fact that this is a harvest of wheat or
grain. Wheat is the
first grain to be harvested in spring and therefore made up the
"first fruits." (Ex.
34:22) Those being
reaped are the hundred forty and four thousand, dying in martyrdom
under the inquisition in
The Eschatological Harvest and the Man of Sin
The discussion above is corroborated by the
context of II Thessalonians.
A cursory reading of II Thess. 2:1-12 will show that the
church in Thessalonica was alarmed that the day of the Lord was
immediately upon them.
But Paul admonishes them not to be “troubled” or “shaken in mind”
for the time of their gathering unto the Lord was not yet at hand.
First there would be a “falling away,” pointing to the full
and final rejection of Christ by the Jews, manifested in the
persecution of the church and a turning back to Judaism from the
gospel. The book of
Hebrews, written some years later, indicates that his process was
then underway when it alluded to the temptation to forsake the
church’s wonted time of assembly and turn back to Judaism.
However, the day of national reckoning could be seen approaching and
the writer could say “For yet it is a very, very little while, and
he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”
James testifies of similar conditions in
The persecution that would mark the full and final rejection of Christ by the Jews would arise under one Paul refers to as the “man of sin” and “son of perdition.” (II Thess. 2:3) This individual would oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or worshipped, arrogating to himself divinity, usurping the very throne of God in his heart (referred to figuratively as “sitting in the temple of God;” cf. Ezek. 28:1, 2). This refers to Nero Caesar and his war against Christ and the church. However, Paul reminds his readers that there was then something preventing Nero’s and the Jews’ persecution: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consumed with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” (II Thess. 2:7, 8)
Paul refers here to Claudius Caesar.
Claudius reigned from A.D. 41-54.
While he ruled, Claudius provided a time of political
stability throughout the empire, preventing persecution of the
church, even banishing the Jews from
"’For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.’" He speaks here of Nero... But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it.”
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) states:
“Some think that these words refer to the
The late Canon of Westminster, F.W. Farrar, wrote:
As long as Claudius was at the head of
The Same as the “Rapture?”
We saw earlier how allusions to the Day of
Atonement and the Jubilee were used in connection with the gathering
of the saints unto Christ.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For 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.” (I Thess. 4:15-17)
The question becomes whether these passages describe the same event? Is the “catching up” to meet the Lord referred to in I Thess. 4:17 the same event as the “gathering” unto the Lord at his coming referred to in II Thess. 2:1? Although gathering unto the Lord and being caught up to meet him in the air are similar concepts and use similar terms, we believe the better view is that the two passages describe different events. II Thess. 2:1-12 deals with the eschatological gathering of the saints by martyrdom preceding the resurrection, I Thess. 4:15-17 deals with the catching up of living saints after the resurrection. Hence, the two passage clearly speak to different circumstances.
In I Thess. 4:15-17, the issue is whether those who perished in the Lord are lost forever. Paul assures his readers that they had not perished, but would be resurrected on the last day. Then, as those alive at Christ’s coming in turn experience physical death themselves, they would be caught up in the air to meet the Lord and be reunited with their loved ones in heaven. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (II Cor. 5:1) This explains the similarity of language in I and II Thessalonians: both describe the same process of being gathered unto Christ by physical death, albeit at different times under different circumstances. Whether before or after the eschaton, both would be gathered home to Jesus in heaven.
The eschatological harvest spoke to the saints being gathered unto Christ by martyrdom under Nero, the “man of sin.” This time of gathering was restrained while Claudius was upon the throne, but when he was taken out of the way, Nero would ascend the throne and embrace a policy of persecution toward the church. Those alive at Christ’s return would be reunited with their loved ones after the eschaton, being caught up to meet the Lord in they air at the time of their own physical demise.
 The period of
political stability answers to the binding of the dragon (
 St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on II Thess., Nicene-Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. XXIII; emphasis added.
 Augustine, City of God, XX, xix; cf., Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, xxv-xxviii; Lactanius, Divine Inst. VII, xxv; emphasis added.
 F.W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (1891, Columbian Publishing Co, NY), p. 13; cf. The Life and Work of St. Paul, Excursus XIX, (1879, Cassell and Co. ed), p. 726.
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