This final section of Revelation 14 draws on several Old Testament themes to describe what appears to be the great final judgment. John sees someone “like a son of man” sitting on a cloud with a sickle in his hand. Who is this person who was “like a son of man?” Revelation 14 has a series of angels and “another angel” comes out of the temple in 14:15. Is this “son of man” another angel, or does Revelation 14:14 refer to the Messiah?
Revelation 14:14-16 draws on Daniel 7, but there are some differences. In Daniel 7:13, the son of man is sitting on the cloud, although Aune speculates John could be influenced by Psalm 110:1 as well (Aune, 2:840). In the Gospels, Jesus frequently refers to himself as the Son of Man and alludes to Daniel 7:13 in his eschatological discourse (Matt 24:30) and during his trial (Matt 26:64). In either case, the cloud refers to God’s glory rather than a form of transportation. This “son of man” appears with the authority of God himself, whether he is the messiah or an angel.
In favor of this being the messiah: The fact this “son of man” is sitting on a cloud implies John has Jesus is in mind. In Revelation 1:7 the author says Jesus is coming back in the clouds. There is a difference, however. In Revelation 1:7 clouds are plural, here in Revelation 14:14 it is a singular cloud. Daniel 7:13 is clearly messianic. If Revelation 14 is alluding to Daniel, then John intends the reader to pick up on the rest of Daniel 7. In both cases the “son of man” is sitting in judgment over Israel’s enemies.
There may be a structural hint that highlights this “son of man” as different from the other angles in Revelation 14. There are seven persons in Revelation 14: three angels, the “son of man,” and then three more angels. If this observation is valid, then the section is centered around the appearance of the “son of man” on a cloud to render justice.
In favor of this being an angel: In Revelation 14: 17 another angel appears, implying the “son of man” another angel in the fourth of seven in Revelation 14. John usually refers to the messiah as the Lamb in Revelation. The verse also says this is “something like a son of man,” a way of saying “human like.” Since Revelation 14:17-20 seems to allude to the gory battle found in Ezekiel 38-39, perhaps John is influenced by Ezekiel’s “son of man,” which means “human.” Beale suggests this angel represents God, since he is coming from the temple in heaven, therefore the command comes from God rather than the angel (Revelation, 771).
The rest of the description of this “son of man” does not help determine whether John intends the reader to understand this as the messiah or an angel since the images might be applied equally to Jesus or to an important angel.
The “son of man” wears a “crown of gold” on his head. This a victor’s crown (στέφανος, stephanos) as opposed to the royal crown (διάδημα, diadima) which rider on the white horse wears in Revelation 19:12. That the crown is gold The image is intended to express authority, Aune 2:842, he translates this as a “wreath of gold” rather than a crown. A diadem is “the sign of royalty among the Persians, a blue band trimmed with white, on the tiara, hence a symbol of royalty.” (BDAG) There are only three occurrences in Revelation, once referring to Christ, the other two referring to Satan! (Rev 12:3; 13:1-2; 19:12).
He holds a “sharp sickle in his hand.” A sickle is a “a large, curved knife employed in cutting ripe grain” (LN 6.5) The word is only found in this chapter and once in Mark 4:29, a parable of referring to eschatological judgment as a harvest. The word appears in the Septuagint for a literal farm too, but in Joel 3:13 a harvest refers to eschatological judgment. Like Revelation 14, Joel 3:13 refers to a harvest of wheat (a sickle) and grapes (“the winepress is full”). Joel 3:14-16 has a number of apocalyptic images and refers to the “valley of decision.” The image of death carrying a sickle is common in western art, but is also found in apocalyptic literature:
Testament of Abraham [rec A] 8:9-10 Do you not know that all those who (spring) from Adam and Eve die? And not one of the prophets escaped death, and not one of those who reign has been immortal. Not one of the forefathers has escaped the mystery of death. All have died, all have departed into Hades, all have been gathered by the sickle of Death.
This “son of man” therefore is poised to begin the final judgment. The harvest is ripe, and the sickle is ready. Although it is possible this could refer to some angel of death, one function of the messiah is to render judgment. In Matthew 3:12 John the Baptist says the one who is coming in similar terms: his “winnowing fork is in his hand” and he will sort out the wheat from the chaff. The wheat will go into the barn, the chaff will be burned “with unquenchable fire.” There are several harvest parables in the gospels in which Jesus places himself as a farmer who will sort out the wheat from the weeds or the sheep from the goats.
It is therefore likely John intends the reader to hear the echoes of Daniel 7:13 and Joel 3:13-14 in his description of a son of man sitting on the cloud, prepared to begin the final harvest of the earth.