Revelation 15 and 16

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel 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!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

Understanding And Applying the Text

This vision begins like the first, three visions. There are seven angels. God charges these angels with dispensing seven plagues. Also, the scene brings to mind the worship around God’s throne in chapters 4 and 5.

Have you ever wondered what is the proper way to worship God? Have you ever wondered how to pray? So often we respond to those questions with, “Well I feel more worshipful with this music.” Or “I feel the more worshipful in this type of service.” That is the wrong answer. Worship is not about us. It is not about our likes feelings or desires. Worship is not about what we like or how we feel. Worship is about God. It is about what He desires.

Here God tells us how to worship. Here we see pure worship. We see worship as it is in heaven. Look at the passages of Revelation that speak of the throne room of God. There is pure worship. There are examples of how we should worship.

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” Does God dispense wrath? Yes. But His wrath is just. His wrath is good. We fear it, as we should. But we fear it because God is righteous and we are not. God’s wrath is just because He is righteous and we are not.

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?” This brings to mind Psalms 14:1 and 53:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Who does not fear? The fool does not fear.

“For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” God’s judgment is never arbitrary or spiteful. It is just payment for evil deeds.

You may have heard, “If there is a God, He has some explaining to do. He needs to explain children with cancer. He needs to explain disease, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes. He needs to explain all the evil in the world. He needs to explain the killing of innocent people.”

That line of reasoning makes sense to us. We think of ourselves the highest value. We think mankind is the highest good. But we are not the ultimate value! God does not owe us an explanation. Yet He gives us one. He is righteous and we are not. He is good. We are not. We have committed treason against the king. We get what we deserve. In fact, we get better than we deserve. Why do the innocent suffer? There are no innocent. (Psalms 53:3; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10; 1 John 1:8)

The sanctuary was filled with smoke. Smoke or thick cloud often accompanies God’s presence. This is especially true when He is angry. We see this at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:9,16,18; 20:18). We also see it in Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions. (Isaiah. 6:4; Ezekiel. 1:4; Numbers. 12:5; Psalms. 18:8, 11; 74:1).

The seven angels receive seven golden bowls. These bowls contain God’s wrath. The bowls are poured out on the land.

This vision is another view of the same events of the previous judgments. It is presented from a different viewpoint. If we do a direct comparison with the seven trumpets this becomes evident.

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TrumpetsBowls
1. Plagues poured out on the land1. Plagues poured out on the land
2. Sea becomes blood2. Sea becomes blood
3. Affect Rivers and Springs3. Affect Rivers and Springs
4. Affect Sun Moon and Stars4. Affects the sun
5. The bottomless pit open which is the seat of the beast, Men are tormented5. Poured on the seat of the beast. Men are tormented
6. Angels at the Euphrates loosed. Cavalry mustered6. Poured on the Euphrates Host mustered for battle.
7. Catastrophe; judgment, kingdom proclaimed Natural disasters thundering and earthquake7. Catastrophe; judgment, kingdom proclaimed Natural disasters thundering and earthquake

This is not coincidental. These are identical. But why? Why repeat the same judgment. It is to reaffirm the judgment of God. It is certain. It is true. There is no escaping God’s judgment.

The seven angels are told to pour out God’s wrath on the land. This is the antitheses of the great commission. Christ told the disciples to go tell the good news. Now God’s wrath is poured out on those who would not listen.

The first four bowls affect the natural world. This was the same with the first four trumpets. The words of Christ are very similar to the vision here.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Luke 21:25-26

The word translated “earth” can also be translated “the land.” This is not a reference to that whole earth. This refers to a specific region, Judea.

When the third angel pours out his bowl. The rivers turn to blood. Why blood? “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets…” Killing the prophets was the very sin of Israel and Jerusalem.

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.”

Luke 11:47

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.”

Acts 7:52

There is no other nation or city alleged to commit this crime. When the Rome invaded, it could be said their rivers ran with blood.

The first five bowls reflect the plagues on Egypt. The painful sores are similar to the plague of boils in Egypt. (Exodus 9:8-12) The rivers of blood reflects the plague of blood in Egypt. (Exodus 7:14-24) Egypt was plagued with darkness. Here the kingdom is in darkness

In Exodus God freed His people from slavery. Here God once again frees His people.

After the third bowl containing the wrath of God the angel in charge of the waters says

“It is what they deserve!”

This is hard for us to accept. They got what they deserved? I have often wondered how the angels must marvel at God’s patience. They must marvel at God’s mercy. They must marvel at God’s benevolence. As humans, we spit in God’s face. We malign His name. We rebel against Him and try to usurp Him. We assume His place. Yet God sends the rain for crops. God gives us life.

But while God is long suffering, His patience is not infinite. Judgment is coming. And here the angels go, “Finally! Finally they get what they deserve.”

There ought to be a judgment. Without it, God would not be just. But that is hard for us to accept. We want a god who only and always kind. We want a God who is a toothless tiger. We want a god who is soft and cuddly. We want a stuffed animal god. We want a god who serves us. And there it is again. There is another example of our rebellion. There we go putting ourselves in God’s place. We usurp God’s role and authority.

There are those who understand and accept the just wrath of God. But yet they cover it over. They present to the world that God is only love, kind, and peace. Why would they do that? Why hide the truth? There is this belief the world will reject a wrathful God. But we forget that is not our job. The great commission is not, go make converts. The great commission is to go make disciples. How are we to do that? We are to do that by baptizing and teaching. It is God’s job to attract. God makes converts, not us. But there we go again usurping God’s role. We try to make converts. We think we know better. Rather than trying to do God’s job for Him we are to affirm God’s just justice.

The good news is you don’t have to get what you deserve. Take refuge in Christ and He receives what you deserve. God’s justice will be satisfied. Either Christ absorbs God’s wrath or you will.

The fourth angel poured out his bowl. The reaction was not repentance. The people cursed God. This shows another truth we find difficult. God’s wrath is not always a call to repentance. Sometimes it is a dispensing of judgment.

This reminds us of Pharaoh. Pharaoh saw God’s power. But Pharaoh could not accept there was anyone or anything more powerful than him. We believe we are the highest good. We believe there is nothing more important than us.

The fifth bowl corresponds to the fifth trumpet. The bowl is poured on the beast’s throne. This is the place from which the beast comes, the bottomless pit. This is a reminder of the spirits Jesus cast out to the man in Luke. They begged Jesus not to send them to the abyss before their time. (Luke 8:31). It is impossible to say which historical events correspond to this is symbolism. But the imagery is one that symbolizes terror and misery.

The sixth bowl like the sixth trumpet affects the Euphrates river. The river dries up to ease the way for the kings of the east. The unclean spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon like frogs. This is a clear reminder of the plague of frogs in Egypt. Historically, this symbolizes the mustering of neighboring kings for the Jewish war. The drying of the Euphrates appears to represent it being crossed with ease. We know this to be a historical fact. Roman legions from the frontier of the Euphrates were called up. Also, kings from the region, Antiochus of Commagene and Sohemus of Sophene, provided troops and supplies for the siege of Jerusalem.

With the pouring out of the seventh bowl, God announces, “It is done.” God has finished pouring out His wrath.

There is little doubt this refers to Jerusalem. It is self evident. Both the seventh trumpet and seventh bowl mention great hail.

What is remarkable is the fact Josephus explains what seems to be an unintelligible symbol. He explains that during the siege of Jerusalem the tenth legion constructed extreme ballistae in power and size. It threw stones into the city. Here is the quotation from Josephus.

‘Admirable as were the engines constructed by all the legions, those of the tenth were of peculiar excellence. Their scorpions were of greater power and their stone-projectors larger, and with these they not only kept in check the sallying parties, but those also on the ramparts. The stones that were thrown were of the weight of a talent, and had a range of two furlongs and more. The shock, not only to such as first met it, but even to those beyond them for a considerable distance, was irresistible. The Jews, however, at the first, could guard against the stone; for its approach was intimated, not only to the ear by its whiz, but also, being white, to the eye by its brightness. Accordingly they had watchmen posted on the towers, who gave warning when the engine was discharged and the stone projected, calling out in their native language, “The son is coming,” on which those towards whom it was directed would separate, and lie down before it reached them. Thus it happened that, owing to these precautions, the stone fell harmless. It then occurred to the Romans to blacken it; when, taking a more successful aim, as it was no longer equally discernible in its approach, they swept down many at a single discharge.’—Josephus, Jewish Wars, bk. v. chap. vi. 3.

This is an exact fulfillment of the prophecy.

What did the Jews mean by “The son is coming?” It is improbable this is a reference to Christ coming. I believe was a mockery of Christians.

About this time James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred. He spoke in the temple saying the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven. He was martyred for this testimony. It is probable the Jews mocked this. When they saw the white mass hurtling through the air, they cried, ‘The Son is coming.’

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