Back in the latter part of Revelation 11, John records what he witnesses in the heavenly space. Beginning with verse 15, he writes, “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’ And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying…
‘We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.’
Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.”
As we’ve noted over the course of the last several weeks, following this particular scene, John takes an intermission from the flow of what’s happening in heaven in order to use chapters 12, 13, and 14 to introduce seven important characters who play central roles during these seven years of Great Tribulation. Now that John’s finished this particular task and given us a more complete picture of events, he’s now ready to return to the action.
Revelation 15:1, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.”
Regarding the judgments of God, we’ve already seen seven Seal Judgments followed by seven Trumpet Judgments. Now that we’re approaching the end of the Tribulation, John observes “seven angels” step forward each possessing one of “these seven last plagues.” John adds that in these judgments “the wrath of God” would be “complete” or finished.
In the original Greek New Testament, you will find two different words translated into English as “wrath.” Scripturally speaking, the overwhelming majority of the time, the word for wrath is orgē — which described an anger that gradually rose from a natural disposition.
That said, the word for wrath used by John when he mentions the “wrath of God” in verse 1 is thymos — which noted an inflamed anger that flashes forth. In fact, this particular word is used only 11 times in the Bible — 10 of which we find in the Book of Revelation. While one word presents a simmering anger, the wrath we find here was intentional and explosive.
Up until this point in God’s judgment of the world, we’ve seen incredible restraint. With the first round of Seal Judgments, God would only judge a fourth part. Then with the second round of Trumpet Judgments, His wrath would be measured by a third.
And yet, what’s interesting about this final set of Bowl Judgments is that any and all restraints have been completely removed. With these “seven plagues” God’s wrath will be poured out in full measure. We should consider what necessitated this change in approach?
First, in spite of God’s mercy manifesting in the restraining of His judgments — coupled with the reality God has graciously gone above and beyond to provide the world multiple witnesses who testified of the truth, we have repeatedly seen mankind refuse to repent of his wickedness and in turn, double down in his rebellion against God? While God is incredibly patient, there is a point in time when His patience with man finally runs out.
Secondly, if this weren’t reason enough, in addition to his stubbornness, unrepentant man has also embarked on a systematic pursuit and persecution of the saints of God. By this point in time, seeing the wickedness of man, his unwillingness to repent, and now the fact he’s lashing out at the saints, the anger of God hits a flashpoint manifesting in these final seven plagues. A threshold has been crossed and now all restraints are removed.
Revelation 15:2-4, “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” In this vision, John is seeing the vast multitude of the saints martyred for their faith in Jesus during the Tribulation standing in heaven before the throne of God each having harps.
Accompanied with their instruments… “They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.’”
It’s interesting that this song sung before the throne of God had two titles. John calls it “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb.” How cool a song authored in heaven by Moses through a collaboration with Jesus was to be sung by the Tribulational Saints!
Amazingly, for a group of men and women who faced incredible hardship on this earth, the moment they entered heaven everything made perfect sense. They were not upset with what they had to endure. Instead, they celebrated the works of God (the things He does), the ways of God (the way He does it), His holiness, and judgments.
Revelation 15:5-6, “After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.” Their attire is very similar to the priests of Israel.
Knowing that God is about to unleash His final judgments onto this evil world, it’s significant the initiating directives will come directly from “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven.” While the restraints of God’s wrath have been removed, the application of His wrath will be pursuant to the standards of His law and the commandments. Note: While these Bowl Judgments will be horrifying, they will be entirely justified.
Revelation 15:7, “Then one of the four living creatures (these were the Cherubim we saw back in chapter 4) gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.” In the earthly Temple, “golden bowls” were the vessels used by the priests to collect the blood of the sacrifice that would then be used to cleanse and consecrate the altars. The idea is God is about to purify the world from the taint of sin.
Revelation 15:8, “The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.” In setting the scene for what’s about to take place on earth, the idea of the temple being “filled with smoke from the glory of God” so that “no one was able to enter” until the “seven plagues were completed” was to illustrate how this final judgment could no longer be delayed nor could it be stopped. The final domino had now dropped.
Revelation 16:1, “Then I heard a loud (literally a great) voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.’”
Because the previous chapter closed with God being left alone in the temple, there is no question this “great voice” instructing “the seven angels” to “go and pour out these bowls” of judgment “on the earth” was that of God the Father. Regarding the completion of His judgments, God takes full responsibility for what happens. He’s the one calling the shots.
For a measure of context as to the brutal nature of these Bowl Judgments and why chronologically they must occur towards the end of the Tribulation, Jesus said, in Matthew 24:21-22, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.”
Revelation 16:2, “So the first (angel) went and poured out his bowl upon the earth (this will be a global judgment), (what resulted) and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.”
One of the things you will come to notice about the Bowl Judgments, in particular, is that while the results of each judgment have a clear and literal understanding, they are also designed to some extent to be illustrative of man’s spiritual condition.
For example, with this first judgment, John tells us “a foul and loathsome sore came upon” anyone who had received the Mark of the Beast. Literally, the bodies of these folks end up covered with “a foul” or oozing “sore” John describes as being “loathsome” or very painful.
Some commentators will speculate that because this sore only afflicts those with the mark it’s likely the mark itself is the cause for the skin malady. Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to gin up some kind of medical explanation for what was clearly a divine judgment.
Illustratively, this first Bowl Judgment was God’s way of allowing the outward man to literally reflect his inward condition. The evil people who’d taken the mark were rotten to the core. Spiritually, their hearts were like a festering, ulcerated lesion that was foul and grotesque.
It should be pointed out there was also a redemptive aspect of this particular judgment. You can imagine for anyone still on the fence about taking the Mark of the Beast or accepting God’s invitation for salvation this very visual judgment would be a pretty strong deterrent.
Revelation 16:3, “Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.”
In Revelation 8:8-9, John records that “a third of the sea became blood” as a consequence of the second Trumpet Judgment. With this second Bowl, John says the rest of the sea became like the “blood of a dead man” and that “every living creature in the sea died.”
Aside from the ecological disaster, such a global judgment would wreak on the earth (the stench of rotting sea life would be unbearable), in turning the sea to blood, God was highlighting the bloody scope of man’s reign on the earth. Since the moment Cain struck down Abel, through wars and murders, sinful man has always had blood on his hands.
Revelation 16:4, “Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.” Regarding this third Bowl, you’re going to want to make sure you have plenty of Aquafina stored up because all the drinking water turns to blood as well. In John 4, Jesus promised to give the world “living water” that would “spring up into everlasting life.” Sadly, to a world that had rejected His offer, Jesus now gives them only dead, lifeless, bloody water to drink that leads to everlasting death.
Revelation 16:5-7, “And I heard the angel of the waters saying: ‘You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they (mankind) have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.’ And I heard another (angel) from the altar saying, ‘Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.’”
Pertaining to the second and third Bowl Judgment, John hears two different angels testify that as devastating these things were they were absolutely justified and totally warranted. God’s judgments were not only “righteous,” but they were also “true.” In turning the waters of the earth to blood, God was giving those who “shed the blood of the saints” there “just due.”
Revelation 16:8-9, “Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him (better translated as “it” referring to the sun) to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.”
With the fourth Bowl of God’s wrath, the earth begins to roast as temperatures soar. As a result, John tells us “men were scorched with fire” and “with a great heat” emanating from the sun. By this point in our history, Global Warming will be a real and inescapable problem.
Ironically though, no one experiencing these things will claim this warming was manmade. In fact, everyone knew this was a God-made Climate Change! John says, in spite of knowing this was God’s judgment, “they blasphemed the name of God and did not repent.”
Please understand, the experience of divine judgment or the knowledge God is behind your present experiences has no real power to change a man’s heart. In truth, as we saw with Pharaoh, an unwillingness to repent only serves to harden one’s heart in his rebellion and resistance. Never forget, it’s only the love and grace of God that changes a person’s life.
Revelation 16:10-11, “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. They blasphemed the God of heaven (literally they railed against God) because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.”
With this fifth Bowl, John describes a “darkness” engulfing the “throne” and “kingdom” of “the beast.” This tells us this particular judgment was not global but regionally specific to the area controlled by the Antichrist. It’s obvious there was something peculiar about this “darkness.” It was physically afflicting. This was the type of darkness that could be felt. In fact, it was so “painful” John says, in response, men “gnawed” on “their tongues.”
In John 3:19, Jesus made this accusation of the fallen world… He said, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” With this in mind, in this judgment, God was giving man what he wanted — darkness! With the great heat caused by the fourth Bowl coupled with this gnawing darkness, God was providing man a small taste of what hell would be like.
Again, in response to these things, man grows even more defiant. For the last time in the Book of Revelation, John says, “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.” At this point, the end is neigh!
Revelation 16:12-14, “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”
With this sixth Bowl, the stage is finally being set for the last “battle of that great day of God Almighty” commonly known as the Battle of Armageddon. In a bizarre scene, John says he “saw three unclean spirits like frogs” come out of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet. Specifically, John notes these grotesque spirits were the “spirits of demons.”
Concerning their mission, these spirits were charged with gathering the nations of the earth together for one final conflict. To aid in this process, John also observes how the “Euphrates was dried up” providing a way for the “kings from the east” to make it into Israel.
Revelation 16:15-16, “‘Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.’ And they (these spirits) gathered them (nations) together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.”
For starters, I need to point out that contextually verse 15 does not fit within the flow of the narrative in any way. John is in the middle of describing these “three unclean, demon spirits who are like frogs” sent to gather the nations for the Battle of Armageddon, when out of nowhere he records a voice declaring, “Behold, I am coming as a thief!” It’s odd.
In order to understand who is speaking and to whom the exhortation to “watch” is being given, we need to first ask if we’ve encountered this statement anywhere else in the Book of Revelation and if the imagery of “coming as a thief” is used elsewhere in the Bible.
Back in Revelation 3, Jesus wrote to the church in Sardis, saying, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain… for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
Years before this, at the end of His teaching on the End Times, in Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus encouraged His followers to “watch for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” He then added, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
With these two passages in mind, it’s safe to say the voice in verse 15 declaring, “Behold, I am coming as a thief” is that of Jesus. In fact, the idea of His coming is central to the book.
With Jesus making this declaration, in order to identify the audience, He instructs to be watchful, you need to determine what “coming” Jesus plans to occur like “a thief.” There are many scholars who believe Jesus is speaking to the tribulation saints who’ve somehow managed to survive to the end. And yet, the problem with this position is twofold.
First, the Second Coming of Jesus will not be like a thief! According to John’s account of this event recorded in Revelation 19, heaven will open and everyone will see Him coming! In fact, prophetically the day had been foreordained (Daniel says it would happen 1260 days from the Abomination) which is why the nations had gathered together to take on Jesus!
The second issue is what would practically result if the event in question was the Second Coming and you failed to watch. Jesus says, “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” The idea is that there was a tangible blessing for the person who stayed attentive, watchful, and was prepared. And in contrast, a failure to do those things would result in a notable consequence — shame. It’s very difficult to apply these two things for believers witnessing the Second Coming.
Instead, the more likely “coming” Jesus is referencing occurring like “a thief” is the Rapture meaning the audience He’s exhorting to be “watchful” is the Church. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul writes, “Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and of the day. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober... For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”
In the context of John recording for the Church this final battle scene, Jesus breaks into the flow of the narrative to abruptly interject an exhortation for Christians to be watching for His coming. “Guys, I’m coming and you do not want to be on earth when this happens!”
Revelation 16:17, “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’”
As Jesus completed His mission of taking upon Himself the sins of the world in order to provide you and me a way for salvation, in John 19:30, we’re told, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
What makes Revelation 16:17 so fascinating is that we now have God the Father uttering a similar refrain. With this final Bowl being poured out marking the completion of His wrath on a sinful, Christ-rejection world, the Father declares, “It is done!” A plan set into motion back in the Garden was now finished. Judgment was completed and the Kingdom coming! In fact, I believe this pronouncement immediately manifested in Christ’s Return.
Revelation 16:18-21, “And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now (what resulted from this quake) the great city (Jerusalem) was divided into three parts, and the cities (plural) of the nations (plural) fell (John is describing a global destruction). And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. (We’ll get to the judgment of Babylon next Sunday in our exposition of chapters 17 and 18.)
Then every island fled away (literally they sank), and the mountains were not found (incredible tectonic shifts in the earth’s crust). And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent (roughly 100 pounds). Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.”
In Romans 8:22, Paul mentions that “the whole of creation” is presently “groaning” for the return of her Maker. Following the pouring out of this final Bowl and the declaration of the Father that His judgments are now done, heaven opens and Jesus makes His return.
Not only does He make quick work of the armies gathered to oppose Him and an incredible slaughter of the wicked ensue, but sensing the Creator’s arrival to restore the earth ravaged by sinful men, the globe literally quakes with anticipation and excitement.
As part of this final judgment where the basic topography of the planet is so radically altered that every island and mountain disappears with the cities of the world being reduced to rubble, John also says “great hail” weighing 100 pounds “fall upon men from heaven.” Not to get morbid, but imagine getting hit with a 100-pound chunk of ice falling from the sky!
Looking at this last plague through a spiritual lens, there is something profound about this being the final manifestation of God’s wrath towards the unbelieving world. According to the Law, blaspheme against God always carried with it a death sentence by stoning.
There was a day when Jesus could have righteously stoned a woman guilty of committing adultery. And yet, He chose to forgive her. What is really sobering to think about is that a day is on the horizon when forgiveness can no longer be extended and justice is warranted. On this day, God (“who is without sin”) will righteously stone to death an evil world.
As you process the savage finality of the wrath of God, always remember the Lord did everything He could possibly do to provide man an escape from such a judgment. You see not one soul who’ll face these things will be able to claim ignorance. The Scriptures attest that God bent over backward to give humanity warning after warning. He sent witness after witness. He restrained His own judgments hoping man would repent and be saved.
Sadly, not only will fallen man reject God’s salvation in Jesus, but he’ll triple down on his wickedness, lash out against the saints, and blaspheme the name above all. As such, the judgment man will receive every man deserved. As the angel said, “It is their just due!”
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