As we come to chapters 15 and 16 of Revelation we come to our fifth series of seven different camera angles. In our last camera angle in chapters 12-14 we saw the hostility or the cosmic struggle behind the hostility the church here on earth faces. Whether we see it or not there is spiritual warfare going on. The dragon, Satan, uses his agents the first and second beast, which are antichrist and the false prophet, to launch attacks on the church, the Messianic community throughout history. Then at the end of 14 we learned of the most gruesome picture we have seen up until this point of the wrath of God. It was a bloody picture with those who bear the mark of the beast being thrown into the great wine press of the wrath of God and being trampled until the blood flowed for 184 miles so high that a horse could swim in it.
Wrath. That is God’s response to sin. That is God’s response to those who sin against Him. That is God’s response to those who swear allegiance to the dragon and not to Him. When we come to chapters 15 and 16 we are going to see yet again a display of God’s wrath. If you will recall we have said throughout this study that as we progress through Revelation the picture is going to get bigger and the scope is going to become bigger. This is still the case with these two chapters. The wrath of God is on full display and it is the fullest and the most intense picture we have seen so far.
Once again in these two chapters we start with a scene from Heaven where the song of Moses and the Lamb is being sung. Notice once again where John starts. He starts by making sure we are going to be focused on Jesus. One key to understanding this book also is that each section starts with a vision that is in heaven and then seven things happen. The same holds true here. After the vision in Heaven of the song of the Lamb the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out. We also see many parallels to the seven trumpets which we looked at earlier in the book.
As we go through these two chapters particularly chapter 16 notice how the vision treats the wrath of God. When we pay close attention we will see that the wrath of God is not something that is portrayed in a negative light in the scriptures as it is a positive thing. The wrath of God can only be positive because of who the wrath springs from. It comes from the Holy One. It comes from Him who is true and righteous.
This vision begins with another sign in heaven which was great and amazing. This is a contrast with the exclamation that the beast and the work of the false prophet as being great and amazing. It is as if John is saying this is truly great and amazing. There are seven angels with seven plagues which are the last for with them the wrath of God is finished. Heaven is opened up and this vision is great and amazing. These are two words we would not normally put with the word wrath but this is what John has done. Notice also that with these final seven plagues the wrath of God is finished. In these plagues the end has come with all its fury. Throughout the book we have been brought up to the edge of the end and have seen it in smaller pictures. Now we see a fuller picture. The end is here, the end has arrived. The end is great and amazing.
In verse two John sees a sea of glass mingled with fire which shows the majesty and splendor of the vision. John also sees standing beside the sea of glass those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name. They are holding the harps of God in their hands. The choir we have here is the same as the 144,000 we have seen in chapter 14 and chapter 7 which we have said represents the Church, believers, the Messianic community. Only they can conquer the dragon, the beast and the false prophet because of what Christ has done. The victory is already won. The harps they hold represent their victory.
This multitude sings the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb. We see many references here to the Exodus account when God rescued Israel from Egypt. When the Egyptians were slayed by the Red Sea coming down on them the people responded with a song in light of the work God the Father had done on their behalf (See Exodus 15). It is also the song of the Lamb. The twofold title of this song tells us that this is a song of redemption. In the song of Moses the people of Israel respond to be redeemed from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. In the song of the Lamb the redeemed sing of the One who freed them from the oppression and bondage of sin into glorious life living for the Lamb and following Him wherever He goes.
Notice the song they sing, keep in mind also the context in which they are sung. First they say great and amazing are your deeds O Lord God the Almighty. Even in the midst of wrath and the craziness that is about to be revealed. How can the wrath of God be amazing and great? The wrath of God is amazing in that not all people experience the wrath of God. Everyone, from everywhere, from all of time deserves the wrath of God. But what did God do? He sent Christ. He sent a way for people to escape the wrath of God which they rightly and justly deserve.
That is great and amazing. It is great and amazing that God is patient with His wrath. We deserve wrath now. We deserved it yesterday. It should have come in great fury a long time ago. But God gives grace, even common grace to those who live in allegiance to the dragon. He is the Lord God Almighty. All that is to come, the great display of wrath is from God Almighty. He has all power. He has all control. Everything that happens even the wrath of God is under His sovereign control.
Second this song exclaims just and true are your ways O King of the Nations. The works of God are just and true. They are just. God is justified in what He does. Only He is truly just. All of His ways are true. The context is speaking of wrath remember. God’s wrath is just in that it is directed against sin which is against God’s holy and completely pure character. Only God can be just in wrath truly because only He is truly and completely holy. Only His wrath can be true because it is true and consistent with His character. The beast had wrath but it was a false wrath. It was directed toward the wrong people. It was directed towards the saints, those who have been saved from wrath. God is the King of the Nations. Only He is truly King. Only He truly rules. The dragon may seem like he is the king of the nations, but he is a defeated foe and his is a false rule. He rules through force. He rules through a false sense of sovereignty. Only God, the Lamb, is truly sovereign over all that Nations.
Thirdly the song exclaims who will not fear O Lord and glorify your name? All people will one way or another give glory to God. They will fear God. They will glorify all that God is. In Greek the word name stands for the whole person. We would say reputation or character. The will glorify all of the attributes of God. Notice though this is not saying that all will be saved. Many people will wonder and be amazed by God, but as we will see in chapter 16 this leads them to curse God in the end.
Lastly the song exclaims for you alone are holy, all nations will come and worship you for your righteous acts have been revealed. We learn that even in wrath God is holy. All the nations will come they will pay homage to the Father. Why? Because His righteous acts have been revealed. All of His righteous acts including His wrath. Paul said every knee will bow and every tongue confess this is the same thought here. But by the time they realize this the time will be to late. They will worship but the worship will be because they did not believe and now they see they were wrong and they will continue to curse God (see chapter 16).
How is this the song of the redeemed? As the redeemed we have experienced the great and amazing deeds of the Lamb, of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Lamb came and died and rose again taking our sins and giving us His righteousness. The Father in His sovereignty sent His only beloved Son to bear His wrath to be the propitiation for those who had done nothing but spit in His face with their sin. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, came and opened our eyes and changed our minds and brought us to Christ before we may have really known what happened. We know that God is true and just. We know that God is the King of the nations even when it looks as if He is not. We know that He alone is Holy. We know that He looks on us as Holy because of Jesus. His righteous acts have been revealed to us. This is truly the song of the redeemed.
Notice where the focus is. This is the song of the redeemed those who have conquered the beast. Those who may have been killed by the beast. In our culture it would be tempting to say look at what I did. Did you see how bravely I lost my life for Jesus? Look at me I am a conqueror. Now I can truly have my best life now. I finally became a better me. Look at what I did. I am hot stuff I conquered the beast. But where does John go? Where does the vision lead us? It says YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT GOD DID IT. Even in the midst of conquering and winning our focus needs to be on the Lamb. Our focus is on Jesus. The song of Moses and the Lamb is a song of redemption. We did absolutely nothing to redeem ourselves. It was all the great and amazing work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
We have the song of Moses and the Lamb then in verse 5 the vision continues. John looked and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened. Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels who have the seven plagues. They are clothed in pure bright linen and they have golden sashes around their chests. In verse 7 one of the four living creatures, which one does not matter, gives to the angels each a golden bowl full of the wrath of God. The sanctuary was filled with the smoke of the glory of God and from His power. No one was able to enter the sanctuary until the plagues were finished. This filling of the sanctuary reminds us of God’s presence filling the tabernacle in the wilderness and when the temple of Solomon was consecrated. No one is able to enter. This perhaps could be because no one is able to withstand the unmitigated wrath of God (Thomas, Derek, Let’s Study Revelation, 128).We get a clue from this because no one could enter until the seven plagues were finished, and the plagues are the seven bowls full of the wrath of God.
With the giving of the seven bowls to the seven angels we come to chapter 16. Each bowl is poured out in order. One difference we have here when we compare it to the seven seals as well as the seven trumpets is the bowls are poured out with no interruption. In the seven seals and seven trumpets we had an interlude between the sixth and seventh. No such interlude is found here. The first four bowls are a parallel to the seven trumpets in that they affect the earth, sea, rivers and springs and the sun. The last three bowls are poured out on the throne of the beast the Euphrates river and the air.
As the chapter begins there is a loud voice from the temple telling the angels to begin to pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. The voice comes from the temple which tells us that this is the voice of God commanding His wrath to be sent forth and also shows the divine origin of what we are about to see. In verse 2 the first angel pours out its bowl and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. This is like the sixth plague we see in the Exodus account. Notice that ALL who bear the mark of the beast receive these sores. The picture is getting larger. Last time one third was affected now ALL are affected.
The second angel pours its bowl out on the seas and they became like the blood of a dead man and every living thing in it died. Notice once again the picture has gotten fuller. Last we read of one third dying now ALL die. Think about how this affects people. In many ways many peoples livelihood is taken away. Those who relied on the sea to make them money would be destitute.
The third angel pours its bowl into the rivers and springs of water and they became blood. This would be the worlds drinking water supply. We normally do not drink the water from the seas. The water supply is ruined. With the third bowl poured out John hears the angel who is in charge of the waters say: Just are you O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve. In this display of wrath God is still the Holy One and He is just. Notice the change God is now the one who is and was. He is no longer to come. He has come. With these plagues the wrath of God is finished and the end has come. These judgments have come from God. The reason they have come is those who worship the beast and bear its mark have shed the blood of the saints and the prophets. For their shedding of blood God is giving them blood to drink by turning the water to blood. Notice the angel says they get what they deserve. Now John is using a picture to point to the grotesque nature of what these people have done and the wrath they deserve. Basically God is going to give to them what they have given to others.
After the angel in charge of the waters makes its exclamation the altar in verse 7 says: Yes Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments. Notice the theme over and over. Even in the midst of wrath being displayed, being fully displayed, God is constantly called true and just. His judgments are true and just. Everything including His wrath is true and just. We balk at this kind of stuff. We do not like wrath. Part of the reason we do not like wrath is we have a human or man centered view of wrath. Wrath seems sinful because we think about the wrathful and angry things people do to other people. That is a sinful wrath. God’s wrath is nothing like are wrath. His wrath is not capricious. God’s wrath does not fly off the handle. God’s wrath is not directed in a wild and crazy manner. His wrath is directed at those who worship the dragon, the first and the second beast. He gives wrath to those who have warred against the saints and the prophets. His wrath is nothing like our wrath.
The fourth angel now pours its bowl on the sun. The sun is allowed, showing that God is in sovereign control, to scorch people with fire. They refers to those who have received the mark of the beast who have pledged allegiance to the dragon. These were scorched by the great heat. Literally this reads they were scorched a great scorching. The pain is intense and unlike anything there has ever been. This is where the situation becomes bleak. They began to curse the name, or the character of God who has the power over the plagues. They did not repent and give Him glory. Even in God’s wrath there is a redemptive purpose. God’s wrath has a two fold purpose. Not only is it meant to punish sin, but it is also meant to bring sinners to repentance. These people are so hardened by the beast, the idol the worship, that when they see the wrath of God they curse Him. Notice they curse His name. Once again this means a person’s character. They are cursing WHO GOD IS. They are contradicting what we heard earlier. That God is just and He is true and that these displays of His wrath are righteous. They are so blinded by the beast that this is all they can do. Their allegiance and idol worship runs so deep that this is the natural response they have to God Almighty who is true and just in all that He does.
With the four angels pouring out their bowls the displays of wrath on the earth are finished. With the fifth angel the beast is now going to face the wrath of the one it has been attempting to be like. The fifth angel pours its bowl on the throne of the beast. The wrath of God is displayed against the false rule of the beast, which is antichrist. Its kingdom was plunged into darkness, notice once again the similarity to the ten plagues in Exodus. This regime has done nothing but spread darkness and walk in darkness now God plunges their kingdom into darkness. The people of this kingdom gnawed their tongues in anguish. Darkness is a disturbing thing. It terrifies many people. With darkness there is a sense in which something awful and unexpected is going to happen. It can drive a person crazy. You hear of the prison stories where people are put in solitary confinement and many times they get an hour of light a day. This is somewhat of the picture we get here. The darkness causes people to be in torment. Even in this they cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. All of these things seem to be happening at once. They are getting these sores that are unbearable. They are plunged into darkness and in the midst of it all they still curse God and they do not repent of their deeds. Notice they curse God just like the beast. The beast has blasphemous names on its heads. They are doing as their leader does.
With the sixth bowl things get a little crazy because many different people interpret this many different ways. One thing we must keep in mind here is how would John’s original readers take this? The sixth angel pours it bowl in the great Euphrates River. The result was the water was dried up. Since the water is dried up the way is prepared for the kings of the east. What would this mean in the first century? The Euphrates would have been the eastern border of the Roman empire. To the east were the Parthians which was a great concern to the Roman Empire. With the Euphrates removed this would allow ease of access for the Parthians to make their way to conquer. Babylon relied on the Euphrates for comfort that no one would dare try to conquer them because of it. This would represent the removing of comfort and safety which the Euphrates provided. Any nation who would dare could come through with ease and attack. So the Euphrates is dried up and the way is prepared for the great day of God the Almighty which we see in verse 14.
After the water is dried up out of the the mouth of the dragon, beast, and false prophet (second beast) comes three unclean spirits like frogs. Frogs are dirty nasty animals, notice again the parallel between the ten plagues in Exodus. These are demonic spirits who go about to the kings of the world to assemble them for the great day of God the Almighty, the great battle at the end. They assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
What is going on here? I will keep things brief at this point here because we will see this in a fuller way in chapters 19 and even some in 20. Armageddon in Hebrew means Mount Megiddo. The problem we encounter is there is no actual place that is called Mount Megiddo. There were many battles which took place here in the Old Testament. Many of them were historic and important battles. Here are a few references you can look at Judges 5:19 and 2 Kings 23:29. So Armageddon is symbolic for a great battle field. The battle is the great day of the Lord which will happen in the end. The three demonic spirits gather the rulers of this world to meet the TRUE ruler of this world for battle. More I promise will be said on this in a couple of weeks.
In the midst of this chaos we have a blessing from Jesus himself in the midst of the sixth bowl. Look at verse 15. Jesus says He is coming like a thief. This points to the unexpectedness but certainty of His coming again. The blessing is given to those who stay awake and keep their clothes on that they may not go about naked Basically the one who is ready receives the blessing. Those who are ready and waiting and expect the coming of Jesus. What a blessing and comfort for the believer. All craziness may be going on around us but we can know that Jesus is coming it is certain and we need to be ready at all times. Once again this puts our focus squarely where it needs to be. It must be on Jesus at all times. In the midst of the great display of God’s wrath the believers focus is to be on Jesus.
And we have come to the seventh and final bowl. The seventh angel pours its bowl into the air. Why the air? The air represents the domain of the demons. In Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called the prince of the power of the air. Wrath is now poured on his domain. With this a loud voice cries out it is done! There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake. All of these have followed God’s wrath and judgment in this book. With the great earthquake the great city Babylon, which represents the system of paganism is split into three parts. It is completely destroyed. God remembered Babylon and made her drain the cup of the fury of His wrath. May this serve as a warning to those who think God only keeps an account of the good things that we do. With the earthquake and the signs following it every island fled and the mountains were no where to be found. The order as we know it is reversed when the wrath of God is displayed. Great hailstones fell from heaven on people weighing abut one hundred pounds each. Even in the midst of all this they cursed God for the plague of the hail because it was so severe.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Wrath. With this section of Revelation the wrath of God is finished. We will see other manifestations in the book later, but John is teaching us this is what the end looks like. When this happens the end is here and God has come. In this display of wrath God is true, holy, just and righteous. What John teaches us in many ways is that we can never divorce one attribute of God from the rest of His attributes. When wrath is revealed against those who have the mark of the beast and against the rule of the beast and against the domain of Satan it causes them to curse the name of God. When a person curses the name of God they curse the very character of God. They curse who God is. Because of His wrath they think he is unloving and He is not just and He is not true. They can do nothing but what their leader the dragon does and that is curse God. In the end the wrath will be far reaching and will affect ALL who have the mark of the beast and who worship the image of the beast. Their idolatry is a reason God’s wrath has come on them and in it all God it true, holy, just and righteous.
Let’s apply this. What should we do? How does this affect our lives? First we need to be ready for the coming of Jesus. He will come back unexpectedly but we know His coming is a sure thing. It will happen. In light of that we need to live a life of disciplined focus on Jesus. Life is all about Jesus. For the believer when God’s wrath comes the reason we do not face it is because Jesus has already faced the wrath of the Father for us.
Lastly be faithful to all aspects of God’s word even when it speaks of His wrath coming on those who follow the dragon. We can rest assured that even in God’s wrath He is loving, He is righteous, He is Just and He is true. The wrath of God in no way negates His holiness. God is the only one who can truly punish and unleash wrath against sin because He alone has never sinned and it is impossible for Him to do.