A Picture of the Harvest
“And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete” (Acts 27:13).
by David Rice
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That fateful venture resulted in the ship that carried Paul being caught in a storm of 14 days, ending with the loss of the ship and its cargo. About 30 years ago, Br. Ray Luke suggested that this episode represents the storm of trouble leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ.
In particular, he noted that at the midnight hour of jeopardy the sailors cast to the stern “four anchors … and wished for the day,” as though to stabilize against the blowing of the four winds of heaven in an approaching hour of crisis (Acts 27:29, Revelation 7:1).1 This article builds on his studies.
An Overview of the Gospel Age Work
Before Jesus left his disciples at the Mount of Olives, he said that they would be “witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Book of Acts then narrates this very sequence. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 speak of dynamic results in Jerusalem, aggregating the number of baptized men to 5000 (Acts 4:4). After the martyrdom of Stephen, many of these scattered through Judea and Samaria, bringing with them a testimony of Christ. “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Acts 8:5-25 narrates the spread of Christianity among Samaritans, and Acts 8:26-40 explains how it went to Ethiopia through a returning eunuch, a Jewish proselyte. Thus the Gospel went to “the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 10 narrates the conversion of Cornelius, the first fully Gentile inductee, and Acts 11:19,20 speaks of the Gospel spreading to other Gentiles, “Greeks” (NIV, NASB).
(1) See “Acts 27, And You Are In it,” Herald, May/ June 2008 (Ray Luke). See also two related articles in the same issue, “Paul’s Perilous Journey” (Carl Hagensick), and “The Travels of Paul.”
Two Martyrs, then Peter’s Release
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, killed by a Jewish council. James was the second martyr recorded in Acts, killed by Herod, a Roman appointee. Peter was captured also, Herod intending to kill him as he had James. However, God intervened, sending an angel who took Peter past the first ward, past a second ward, then to the iron gate leading to freedom. It opened miraculously, setting Peter at liberty.
This pictures what would happen in the first three periods of the Church. In the Ephesus phase the main persecution came from Jewish leaders, represented in those who stoned Stephen. In the Smyrna phase the main persecutor was Pagan Rome. Those trials culminated in the “great persecution” initiated by Diocletian, running from 303 to 313 AD (Revelation 2:10). It seemed that the fledgling Christian community was destined to succumb (Revelation 12:4), as it seemed Peter was destined to perish following Stephen and James.
However, Constantine came to the throne and suddenly the persecution ceased, for Constantine’s mother was a Christian lady, giving him some concern for the suffering Church. By this means the Church, after passing through two periods, came to the locked iron gate of Rome which swung open as it were of its own accord. The saints, like Peter, were released from a sore travail.
Paul’s Three Missionary Journeys
The account of Paul’s three missionary journeys begins in Acts 13. Each one takes us through approximately three chapters. An imprecise but useful memory tool is that the first 12 chapters relate affairs of the apostles (whom we number as 12), followed
by three chapters each for the three missionary journeys of Paul.
These three missionary tours of Paul correspond to three waves of activity in the Gospel Age, (1) the early church through Thyatira, (2) from the Reformation through Philadelphia, and (3) the Harvest.
The first tour began westward through Cyprus, serving synagogues, representing the first church period, with many Jewish disciples. The Cyprus effort ended with a successful audience before the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus, just as the second church period expanded chiefly among Gentiles in the Roman world.
Paul and Barnabas then left the island for the mainland, preaching very successfully at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14). The third Church period, Pergamos, also saw an extensive
expansion of Christianity. But trouble arose when “honourable women and … chief men … raised persecution” (Acts 13:50), causing Paul and Barnabas to leave (compare Revelation 2:13). The fourth part of their expedition was at Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Here, the afflictions were so severe that Paul was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19). He revived, retraced his steps, and ended this first missionary service. This experience compares with the church of Thyatira, the most difficult part of the dark ages (Revelation 2:20,24).
Before the second missionary tour, the apostles and elders conferred at Jerusalem respecting the affairs of the Church among a large number of new Gentile believers. This may correspond to the Reformation period, when, after centuries of gaining Christian disciples, there came a concerted effort to determine how to proceed forward. Three points were agreed by the council at Jerusalem: abstain from idols, from fornication, and from blood (Acts 15:20). Among the reformers there were differences, but on these three points there was agreement: remove idols, stand free from illicit mixing with governments Revelation 17:2), and respect the blood of atonement given by Jesus.
Second Missionary Tour
The council at Jerusalem agreed that Paul and Barnabas would take these findings to the churches they had founded, representing that from the Reformation forward these new Reformation findings from the Bible would be circulated among all Christian communities for their help and instruction.
At this point, however, a dissension arose between Barnabas and Paul concerning John Mark. He had left them midway through the first missionary journey, and Paul thought it inadvisable to depend upon him further. Whereas Barnabas, ever a forgiving and generous spirit, wished to give John Mark a new opportunity. There was credibility on both sides, but the disagreement did two things. (a) It caused a schism in the effort, but (b) it doubled the output of their ensuing labors. Paul took Silas and went northward, Barnabas took John Mark and went westward.
The same took place in the Reformation. Strong leaders were necessary. The struggles they faced required determined characters to withstand the anathemas of Papacy. But strong leaders do not always mesh well together. When Zwingli went to Germany to seek harmony with Luther, they were unable to bridge the divide. In the end, however, it multiplied the output, with various independent labors to help the diverse and widespread Christian communities resist the overbearing Papal system.
After Paul and Silas revisited former churches, they were beckoned through a dream to cross the waters westward to a new field of service (Acts 16:9). Similarly, following the Reformation, Protestant leaders crossed the waters westward to a new world where Christianity flourished.
Third Missionary Tour
Much of this trip was spent at Ephesus. There Paul encountered some disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-6). After receiving baptism into Christ, they blossomed as Christians. Similarly, as the harvest opened, many of those inducted into the Truth Movement were former Adventists, disciples of William Miller. He was a precursor to the second advent work of Jesus, just as John was a precursor to the first advent work of Jesus.
While Paul stayed in Ephesus, it became a center from which the Gospel work went out successfully for three years (Acts 20:31). As a crossroads location for that part of the Roman Empire, Ephesus was an ideal locale for extending the influence of the Gospel.
The work of the Truth Movement in the harvest began at Pennsylvania, the connecting link between England and America through the chain of William Penn. But subsequently, the center of work moved to Brooklyn, the most populous portion of New York City. Like Ephesus of old, New York was a crossroads of America that provided an excellent locale for distributing the Harvest Message.
Near the close of this missionary journey Paul revisited churches established in Greece during his second tour. In the latter years of Br. Russell’s service, the Truth Movement expanded into England and Europe, where the Protestant movement had had its early strength.
Paul’s Capture at Jerusalem
Paul returned from his third missionary tour in time for Pentecost at Jerusalem (Acts 20:16). There he was apprehended in a riot, charged unjustly, and later taken for safety to Caesarea. While a captive for two years, this evidently gave time for his companion, Luke, to interview “eyewitnesses” from which to compose his Gospel record (Luke 1:2).
During this time Paul was subject to Felix, and then to Festus, who was the more noble of the two.2 Paul represents God’s people during the harvest, still in the flesh, under the leaders of this world. The governments early in the harvest, in the mainland of Christianity, were a follow-through from the old powers once integrated with Papacy. These powers were removed through the winds of two world wars that swept through Europe from 1914 to 1945, just as the more corrupt Felix was removed from office after two years (Acts 24:27).
(2) See “The Justice of Festus” (Brother Carl Hagensick), May / June 2008 issue, available online.
The new governments are still part of the administration of the old world. But they are more responsive to the welfare of their citizens than formerly. Perhaps this distinction is illustrated by Festus being more noble than Felix, though both ruled on behalf of Rome.
When Paul appeared before Felix, it was before him and his wife, Drusilla, a Jewess (Acts 24:24). These two may represent the state, and the influence of the religious system, the Catholic Church, in the first half of the harvest.
After World War Two, a third party became active, as mentioned in the sixth plague. It is the False Prophet, sometimes considered to be a coalition of the Church of England with other protestant allies. This might refer to the World Council of Churches that emerged in 1948, shortly after the Second World War. Thus it is notable that when Paul appeared before Festus, he appeared not before two persons (as with Felix), but before three persons: Festus (Roman), Agrippa (Jewish), and Agrippa’s wife Bernice (Acts 25:14). Perhaps these correspond to the three powers of the nominal Christian world
depicted in Revelation 16:13.
Paul had appealed to Caesar, so that Festus, rather than releasing Paul as he was disposed to do, determined that Paul would appear before Caesar. This was of God’s overruling, for Acts 23:11 reports that during this ordeal “the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”
Acts 27 narrates Paul’s voyage toward Rome, representing the voyage of the Church during the Harvest to the center of world dominion. Here are some interpretive suggestions, by verse number.
(1) Paul was at Caesarea, committed to the charge of Julius, a centurion of the band of Augustus. These three names remind us that the church during the harvest is still under the powers of the present world.
(2) The use of the word “we” indicates that the writer of the narrative, Luke, accompanied Paul on this voyage. Aristarchus of Thessalonica was with them also. Thessalonica was the church to whom Paul wrote concerning the second advent, in both of his epistles to them. Perhaps the mention of Aristarchus is a hint to us that this narrative is about the Harvest time, after the return of Christ.
(3) The first leg of the journey was peaceful and they soon came to Sidon, the sister city of Tyre. If Tyre represents Papacy (judging by Ezekiel chapters 27, 28, Revelation 18:11-15), then the sister city Sidon may connect to the Protestant branch of Christendom. It was among Protestants, chiefly, that the Harvest movement found its early followers.
Remarkably, at Sidon, Paul’s captor Julius “gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself” (Acts 27:3). Thus the first part of Paul’s voyage to Rome was a time of pleasant fellowship and sweet experience in the faith. Likewise, the first 40 years of the harvest was a time of generally sweet accord and growth in faith among most brethren.
(4) When they launched from Sidon, immediately they encountered winds, sufficient to cause them to sail near Cyprus for protection, “because the winds were contrary.” Verse five says that they passed by two locations with these contrary winds, “Cilicia and Pamphylia,” before coming to Myra, on the south side of Turkey, where they changed ships.
Winds in the scriptures represent wars (Daniel 7:2, 1 Kings 19:11). The two locations of winds here represent two strong wars, World Wars, that intruded upon our progress to the kingdom from 1914 through 1945. Many brethren before 1914 thought that date might see the Church completed. But as the time approached, it seemed there was too much more to accomplish. Br. Russell cautioned brethren that the time might be delayed.
However, with the advent of war in 1914, things seemed confirmed. In Reprint 5950 Br. Russell concluded that the Gentile Times had indeed expired by 1914. He wondered, tentatively, whether 1918 might be meaningful (as a parallel to the year 73 AD, the end of the seven years of the Roman Wars against Judea).
When writing the foreword to Volume 3, on page i, he still anticipated that “before a very long time — perhaps a year or two or three — the full number of the Elect will be completed, and all will have gone beyond the Veil and the door will be shut.”
We now see that World War I was but the first of two that broke the “everlasting mountains” that had stood strong for generations (Habakkuk 3:6). However, the end of Gentile Times was but the beginning of a process including three broad stages of trouble, each decades long. These are the winds of war, the earthquake shaking the old colonial powers, and the fire is Islam. The first stage took us to 1945, the second to 1989, and the third and final stage takes us to the “still small voice” of the Kingdom that will gently call the world to something better (1 Kings 19:11,12).
Landing at Myra, and changing ships there, suggests a change of the political forces of old Christendom. After World War II, things were different. Symbolically speaking, Felix was out,
Festus was in. A view that greatly attracts this writer, though not widely discussed, is that the image of Daniel chapter two, smitten in 1914, had been blown away by the winds of two world wars by 1945. After that we no longer have Papacy intertwined with European governments. They have some influence, but they are not intertwined. The clay-iron mixture is gone.
Thereafter, the influence of the “stone,” the power from above to establish God’s kingdom on earth, took visible root in the reestablishment of Israel in 1948. The stone began to grow after the winds of summer (note, not the winter troubles ending the harvest, but the winds of summer during the harvest, Daniel 2:35). So Israel began to expand in the years following 1948.
Israel is not yet the Kingdom of Christ. They will not be that, until they recognize Jesus as their Messiah and nationally mourn for him, having rejected him for so long (Zechariah
12:10). But the establishment and growth of Israel is a marker of the power from above, working toward the establishment of the Kingdom.(3)
The old ship of state is gone. However, the new one, boarded at Myra, is destined for ruin. That comes at the close of the harvest. That is the work of “winter,” ending the summer of harvest (Matthew 24:20, Jeremiah 8:20).
(6) The centurion located a ship of Alexandria to continue their journey. Alexandria is in Egypt, and this was a grain ship taking their produce toward Rome as an import. As a ship of Egypt, when it goes to ruin, this connects symbolically with the last plague upon Egypt that brings the close of the harvest.
(7) Leaving port, they “sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus.” Following 1945, though the war was ended, bringing a wonderful relief, world tensions nevertheless continued with the introduction of the “cold war” from 1945 until the release of the Soviet Union’s subject states in 1989. That is a period of 44 years, compared with the period from 1914 to 1945 of 31 years. So the second stage of trouble was longer even than the first.
During this time Jerusalem was freed in 1967, Israel survived a deep threat in the Yom Kipper War of 1973, and they passed through other dangers in the years following. But in none of these circumstances did it seem that the Kingdom was imminent. The years passed by, sailing slowly “many days.”
Cnidus was a port at the last westward extension of Turkey. In fact, it is a little offshore, the last extremity of the continent. The end of the cold war connects with the relative collapse of the Soviet Union4 in 1989. Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush used the term “new world order.” It was a different time. The colonial empires of the major European countries were gone, the last to fall being the Soviet Union.
Some of us living then wondered, what remained before sailing on to the kingdom? But as Elijah’s vision shows, the third phase of trouble was at hand. We had been through two hot world wars, a long cold war, and now a new kind of threat emerged. With the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 came fire from Islam that remains to this day. The first Gulf War was followed by 9-11, Afghanistan, a second Gulf War, the misnamed Arab Spring, and terrorism that continues unabated.
With this new kind of “wind not suffering us,” the ship turned southwest for relief under the island of Crete. They passed the northeast tip called Salmone,5 which means billows, perhaps named from sea billows that would roll ashore there. The ship barely made it by, then turned westward to dock at “Fair Havens” on the mid-underside of Crete.
The billows that they passed through in route to Fair Havens may represent the strong financial billows buffeting the western economies. These were evident in the large market downturns of 2000 and 2008, the latter of which, judging by commentaries of some wellplaced persons, posed a threat to the stability of western economies. Whether we have more billows to endure, or whether we have arrived temporarily at “Fair Havens,” is not clear to us because of a lack of perspective. We are too close to the matter. We tend to expect at least another “billow” before reaching Fair Havens and its relief.
(3) When Noah’s ark came aground, the flood waters
were still outside. This represents the end of the age, when things would begin shaping toward the kingdom, but the curse would still be abroad. That was 1874. Seventy-four days later appeared the “tops of the mountains,” the newly established state of Israel (compare Micah 4:1, “top of the mountains”). Seventy-four years after 1874 was 1948 when Israel was re-established nationally. Later, at the appearance of the next new year’s day, the waters were dried (Genesis 8:13). That represents the beginning of the Kingdom.
(4) The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. But the year
of release was 1989. Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, and Romania all became free in that year. That was the year of surprise and change.
(5) The word is Strong’s G4534. Strong’s says it may relate to word 4529, “from the surge on the shore.” So the connection to “billows” is plausible, but not sure.
(9) On the other hand, verse 9 says “much time was spent,” apparently meaning that much time was spent at Fair Havens. Are we there now? Time and perspective will help us know. By the end of their stay at Fair Havens, autumn approached. In our distinction of the seasons, there are four. But if the recognized seasons then were only two — summer and winter — then the approach of autumn would qualify as the approach of winter. Winter, as referred to earlier, is the troublous time closing the harvest. It is not a moment, but a period.
Verse 9 says, “Sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, [and] Paul admonished them.” Commentaries suggest that the fast in question was the Day of Atonement. That was a day of sacrifice, and it may suggest that at that advanced stage of the Harvest — after “much time” at Fair Havens
— the high calling opportunity for sacrifice will begin to close down. Some years before the close of the harvest, presumably, the work of gathering new entrants for this superior privilege will diminish.
It may appear to western observers that this time is already upon us — but not quite. In some non-western countries, appreciation of the Truth is growing and new entrants are entering n good numbers. But a dozen years further on may change circumstances. We should take advantage of present opportunities to continue the effort.
(10) As winter approached, the master of the vessel determined to try for a more commodious port, Phoenix (NIV, verse 12). That was further west on the underside of Crete. Phoenix is named for the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, and this may indicate that the western powers will try to regain former glories and lost wealth. They will have stability at Fair Havens, but not the opulent conditions they prefer.
Paul warned against this, perhaps from his experience (he had previously suffered three shipwrecks). “I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.” Perhaps then the Lord’s word, through brethren, will advise holding to present benefits, rather than risking an unwise venture.
(11) The centurion, however, agreed with the master and the ship’s owner, and they went.
(13,14) “When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
But not long after there arose a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.”
The storm was treacherous. They had no good response. This storm would lead to the ruin of the ship. Being then at winter time, it represents the closing experiences of the harvest. If the ruin of the ship is at Armageddon (plague seven), then by this point in the narrative we may be at plague six. That was the drying of the River Euphrates, a withering of the economic support and livelihood of Christendom, the western world. The wind name “Euroclydon” could portend some economic debacle from Europe, but from whatever direction, western economies are linked together.
The storm would last 14 days, but there were stages of concern and efforts during this time.
(16) The small island of Clauda was in their path. This name reminds us of Claudius, and as the names Caesarea, Julius, and Augustus earlier reminded us of the powers of this world, perhaps this named island suggests a last effort to hold together the present order. They let the boat ride with the wind and currents, as perhaps the shipmasters of present governments will yield to the rising concerns of the populace and accede to common demands as they arise.
(17-19) One expedient was to undergird the ship with strong ropes, binding the ship together lest it weakens in the strain. This might connect to Revelation 16:13, a coalition of Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet, to stabilize society. The next day they disposed of some cargo to lighten the ship, and the third day they discarded even some of the tackling of the ship. These three days specially marked out remind us of the next to last plague in Exodus, thick darkness for three days (Exodus 10:23).
(20) The sun, moon, and stars gave no light, reminding us of something similar at the close of the harvest (Matthew 24:29, Isaiah 13:10). After some days of this, “All hope that we should be saved was then taken away.”
(21-26) After some time, Paul encouraged them. The ship would be lost, but the people would be saved. Paul knew this because an angel told Paul this, and he had faith, and assured the others. The church at this time may have a similar message: the ship of state would be lost, but the people will be saved in the Millennium. We know this because an “angel” has informed us, the seventh angel of Revelation 1:20.
There was one more part of Paul’s message: “We must be cast upon a certain island” (verse 26). That island represents Israel, where nations will be gathered during this storm. There at Israel the ship of state will break apart, as the kingdom opens in a period of distress.
(27) This is the text that specifies that the storm endured for 14 days before they came aground. Could this refer to 14 years before the Kingdom? We will see. Four years of World War I, and six years of World War II did not bring the world to look earnestly upward. Perhaps 14 years of a storm will suffice when secular relief fails. At midnight they realized their peril, and the midnight hour of Exodus 12:29 was the hour of peril in the last plague of Egypt.
(28) They sounded and found the depth was 20 fathoms, then 15 fathoms, indicating the danger of a rocky jolt. These two numbers may suggest that we are approaching the end of the first age of the Spirit (20), and that deliverance is at hand (15), respectively.
(29) In the hour of peril they cast out four anchors to the stern “and wished for the day.” The buffeting of the four winds (Revelation 7:1) will be strenuous at this time, and every
relief possible will be applied.
(30-32) It will evidently be vital for the leaders of the distressed countries to stay at whatever helms remain, doing their best in a treacherous situation, to avoid a worse disaster. They may bend to expedients that seem unwise. But our sympathies can be with their efforts that evidently will be overruled for at least some relief for those they serve.
(33) As the dawn appeared, Paul exhorted the people to accept bread, something they had not taken for too long a time. The world at this time will have their attention directed upward to the bread from heaven, our Lord Jesus. Supposing that the elect church may have gone to glory by this time (Exodus 12:27-29), Paul perhaps now represents the Great Company. These may not know the specifics of the Divine Plan, but they will know to encourage people to look heavenward for relief.
(37) The number on board is given as 276. That number is 1/6 of 1656. The full number thus reminds us of the world of mankind passing through 6000 years of sin and death. The value 1656, the number of years from Adam to the end of the flood, suggests the time when the flood of Armageddon forces the world into a better time. (Compare Matthew 24:37-39.)
(38) After they had eaten their fill, the remainder of the grain was committed to the sea to lighten the ship. By this time the world will be out of nourishment for themselves. They will have to look to God and to Jesus for assistance. It reminds us that the Egyptians, during their seven years of famine, needed to be cared for by Joseph.
(41-44) The ship came aground where “two seas met,” perhaps at the confluence of two bodies of thought, one by the invading hosts of Gog and his allies, one by those against this invasion (Ezekiel 38:13).
There the ship was lost, the lives of the people were spared, and they found relief on the then unknown island occupied neither by Romans (the political powers of this world), nor Jewish people (the religious leaders of this world). This island represents a small republic, the nation of Israel.
Chapter 28 pictures the work of the Kingdom. Paul, representing God’s people, now represents the Ancient Worthies as they guide the world to the words of life. Those details are another story, also rich with meaning.