Before the harvest was reaped in Revelation 14:14, there had been a reaping already. Revelation 14:1 says, "And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on mount Zion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads." According to Revelation 14:4, these are the firstfruit to God and to the Lamb. They are standing, not in the air, but upon the throne, upon mount Zion. This refers to mount Zion in the heavens where God dwells. Thus, the firstfruit went, not to the air, that is, to the barn, but directly to the Father’s home in the third heavens. The harvest, however, will go into the barn, into the air.
Revelation 12:5 says, "And she brought forth a son, a man-child, who was about to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne." The man-child, the overcomers, will not be caught up to the air, but to the throne of God in the third heavens. The harvest goes to the air which corresponds to the barn, but the firstfruit goes to mount Zion to the throne of God which corresponds to the farmer’s home. The man-child is also raptured to the throne.
THE OLD TESTAMENT TYPE
The Old Testament presents a clear type of this principle in Exodus 23:19. There it says that the firstfruits of the land shall be brought into the house of the Lord thy God. The firstfruits do not go into the barn, but directly into God’s house. This indicates that the firstfruits are for the satisfaction of the Father. By this we can see that the rapture of the Christians will not occur only at one time. First there is the rapture of the firstfruit, and then there is the rapture of the harvest. The firstfruit will be raptured to the third heavens, but the harvest will be raptured to the air.
THE TIME OF
THE RAPTURE OF THE MAN-CHILD
According to Revelation 12:5-6, after the rapture of the man-child, that is, after the overcomers have been caught up to the third heavens, there will still be another 1,260 days or three and one-half years. Most Bible students realize that these three and one-half years will be the second half of the last week mentioned in Daniel 9. At the end of Daniel 9, there are seventy weeks. First, there are seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks, altogether sixty-nine weeks. Then eventually there is the last week. A week here indicates seven years. This seven-year period is divided into two parts. The first part is of three and one-half years, and the second part is of three and one-half years. The three and one-half years is mentioned both in Daniel and Revelation. Sometimes it is mentioned in this way: a time, times, and a half (Dan. 12:7). That means one year, two years, and one-half year or three and one-half years. At other times it is designated as forty-two months or 1,260 days (Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6; 13:5). The three and one-half years, the forty-two months, or the 1,260 days all refer to the same period of time.
The man-child will be raptured in the middle of the last week, which means after his rapture there will be another three and one-half years. This indicates that there is more than one rapture of the saints just as there is more than one reaping of the harvest. First, there will be the reaping of the firstfruit, and then the reaping of the harvest. Surely the reaping of the firstfruit will be earlier, and the reaping of the harvest will be later.
According to Leviticus 23:22, there will be even a further reaping. After the reaping of the firstfruits, and the reaping of the general harvest, some of the grains will still not be ripe. These are the grains which are in the corners of the field and need more time to ripen under the hot sun. In Leviticus 23 these late-ripening ones are called gleanings.
In principle, God’s harvest will also be gathered in three stages. Some will be gathered as the firstfruit, most will be gathered as the harvest, and a few will be left in the world as gleanings in the corners to be harvested at a later time, after the tribulation. This is a very serious matter. In a wheat field, the grains which ripen first are those nearer the center of the field, whereas the grains on the edges ripen last. They have to be left for a longer time in the field to be scourged and burned by the bright sun. Then they too will be ripened and ready to harvest. If we desire to ripen early, we need to be in the center of the church life. Do not stay on the edges of the church life. If you do, you may be left to ripen in the field.
(The Kingdom, Chapter 39, by Witness Lee)