Free Bible Study Magazine
It is important to remember that the Book of Revelation was given to John by a series of signs and visions (Rev. 1.2) and that the events depicted in the visions do not necessarily follow each other in chronological order. Sometimes the same event is referred more than once, and the events in chapters fifteen and sixteen actually occur before events in chapter fourteen.
The scene of this vision is the fulfilment of God’s wrath – no more patient forbearance and holding back in mercy, for the day of salvation will be over. Men will have no more opportunity to repent, for their hearts are long past repentance. The great and wonderful sign John sees in heaven is seven angels carrying the seven last plagues. The word last denotes the finality of these plagues. Throughout these chapters we see God as righteous in his character both as Saviour and as Judge.
God the Righteous Saviour
V2,3 Before the angels are sent out, we see a vision of those who standing on a sea of glass blended with fire, representing God’s holy judgment. These people are victorious over judgment, for they have not bowed down to worship the beast or his image or received his mark. They share in the victory which was won for them by the Lord Jesus Christ, the harps in their hands represent his salvation. This vision interrupts the vision of God’s wrath for a reason: to show that God is unwilling to pour out his wrath – so he has offered a way of salvation to all men. Those who respond and receive His salvation stand perfect before him in Christ, without fear of condemnation, for our God is a Saviour before he is a judge. How tragic it is then, for those who suffer God’s wrath – tragic, for it need never have been, they have only themselves to blame.
In contrast, how wonderful it will be to join in the song of the redeemed! The song of Moses and the Lamb are not two different songs, but two blended into one. Derek Williams writes: “Just as the Israelites sang with Moses after their deliverance from Egypt, so the Lord’s people sing to the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has delivered from sin, its power and its judgment.” What God has done is marvellous in our eyes. It is done in grace, for it is undeserved on our part, but it is done in justice, for God has fulfilled his own law in making us right with him.
No one could fail to revere the Name of such a God, bow down to Him, honour and praise Him (Phil. 2:9 – 11). God alone is “perfectly and to the highest degree, holy”. All the redeemed from every nation on earth will give Him due worship because of his righteousness in their justification, and his works on earth. Ps. 86:9.
V5 At this point, John saw the way into God’s presence open. It has been opened once and for all and will never again be shut, for Christ has made the way for all who believe.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh (Heb. 10:19-20)
How sad that even though the door is open, those who refuse to believe refuse to enter through it. The tabernacle of the Testimony in heaven is “the dwelling place and throne of God (the heavenly holy of holies).”DRW But if God is a righteous Saviour, he is also a righteous judge.
God the Righteous Judge
V6 John’s attention now turn again to the seven angels bearing the plagues as they come out from the presence of God. Since they are to be the executors of God’s judgment, they are sent with marks of his divine authority, the white robes speak of His judicial impartiality and the golden sash is the mark of their office.
V7 From one of the four living creatures, each angel receives a golden bowl filled with the wrath of God “Who lives forever and ever.” “The particular object in referring to this attribute here appears to be, that though there may seem to be delay in the execution of his purposes, yet they will be certainly accomplished, for he is the ever-living and unchangeable God” (Barnes). God has always been the same. His anger against sin has never changed. It is simply that in his love and long-suffering, he gave all men opportunity to repent. But there is a time with God, when disobedience can no longer be overlooked. The time has come to carry out due sentence.
V8 As the angels were entrusted with their commission, God’s sanctuary in heaven was filled with the smoke of His glory and His power. No one could enter until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed, indicating that no intercessions could be made during this time for the guilty – the worthy recipients of God’s wrath.
The First Bowl: Ulcerated Sores.
V1,2 The angels are sent to empty their bowls, and as the first angel pours out his bowl, painful ulcerated sores break out on all those who have the mark of the beast, this is similar to the sixth plague that God sent to judge the Egyptians (Exodus 9:8 – 12) and may I remind you that the Egyptians had never heard of silicon chips.
The Second Bowl: All Seas Turned to Blood
V3 The second angel empties his bowl on the sea which turns it not only into blood, but the foul, ill-smelling blood of a dead body. In contract to the seven trumpets, when one third of marine life died, now every living thing in the sea dies. So we see God’s word means what it says – these are the final judgments.
The Third Bowl: All Fresh Waters Turned to Blood
V4-6 The third angel pours his bowl on the rivers, springs and all the water sources which are turned into blood. This leaves no drinking water on earth. Truly God’s final judgment has begun. The angel who was in charge of the waters asserts that God is quite right to inflict this judgment, for those affected had shed the blood of God’s children and were only receiving what they deserved – they must now drink blood to survive. I was interested, when I heard someone say after the Tsunami of 2005, when thousands were wiped out in a moment in Bande Ache, Indonesia, “Why would God judge the poor innocent fisher folk of Indonesia?” May I point out that in those poor innocent fishing villages, Christians were being publicly beheaded for their faith in Christ and their heads were bring carried around on poles in front of the jubilant villagers. I have seen photographs of these atrocities myself. Were they really poor innocent fishermen or callous murderers of God’s children? National crimes merit national chastisement, and international crimes merit universal punishment. Christ himself, who gave himself up as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross, echoes the sentiments of the angel, Yes, Lord God Almighty – they deserve this – for your judgments are true and right.
The Fourth Bowl: Men are Burned by the Sun
V8,9 Scientists expect the sun to last at least another 100, 000 years. But the sun is not under its own control. As the fourth angel pours out his bowl on the sun, it flares up to such an extent that people are severely burnt by its heat. Yet they do not repent or give God glory. Instead they blaspheme and curse God for sending these plagues on them, as if they were not fair. I have said that God is righteous, that is all his ways are right. But man’s heart is so crooked that he calls God’s right way wrong. We have read how Christ and the angels have described God’s judgments as holy and fair; true and right. How many people today would say when hearing of these judgments, “This is terrible, I will never believe in a God who could do such things – it is cruel and wrong.” In saying this, they reveal the sinfulness of their hearts in their perverted sense of right and wrong. Let me assert with serious dogmatism this morning- God is right even if the rest of the world is wrong! Let God be true and every man a liar; that you may be proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
The Fifth Bowl: Darkness
V10,11 Divine judgment draws nearer to the Anti-Christ himself as the fifth angel empties his bowl on his throne in Jerusalem, although as DRW says it does not yet touch him personally. His kingdom was plunged into supernatural darkness, bringing confusion, disorder and distress (see Ex. 10:21-23). So terrible was this darkness that men “gnawed their tongues in anguish” (physical and mental pain, like hell had already begun on earth). DRW says: This is the only place in Scripture where this expression is found. Yet once again their only response to this judgment is to blaspheme and curse God.
The Sixth Bowl: Euphrates Dried Up
V12 – 16 When the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the river Euphrates it was dried up, making it a road for the armies of the eastern nations as they march toward Israel. Bear in mind that at this stage of the proceedings it is not Israel or the Jews they are attacking. This is made clear in later verses (Rev. 19:19). The devil sends out three filthy and grotesque evil spirits to raise up a worldwide army, deceived into believing they have a chance in the fight by the miracles the demons perform, and gather them to fight Christ in the valley of Megiddo. The drying up of the Euphrates could be seen as God throwing down the gauntlet to the wicked, despising their rebellion. Palm 2:1 At this point comes another interjection (v15).
Since all these things are about to be fulfilled – the coming of Christ is inevitable, even the demon inspired armies testify to this – so at the present time opportunity is given to us to be ready for Christ’s coming. The Lord promises those who watch for His coming, those who stay loyal and faithful to Him, that they will not have reason to be ashamed when he comes.
The Seventh Bowl: The Earth Shaken
v17 The seventh and final bowl is emptied into the air and is followed by a mighty voice from the throne of God, which cries, “It is finished!” Tatford says “This is the last stroke, before the Saviour descends to battle.”
V18 The result of the outpouring of the bowl into the air is a great noise, with thunder and lightning, accompanied by an earthquake greater than any which have ever occurred since the creation of man.
V19-21 The great city (is that Jerusalem?) was rent into three parts by gaping wide chasms. All the cities of the nations fell flat in heaps of rubble. For now the entire Christ rejecting world system (symbolized by Babylon) is to be fiercely punished. All the islands of earth were destroyed (Derek Williams says they are possibly submerged by the earthquake) and every mountain was flattened down. At the same time comes a terrible hailstorm, with each hailstone weighing about 43 kg – that’s a builders bag of wet sand falling out of the sky. Once again, men blasphemed and cursed God, such is the enmity of the human heart against its creator. The language of these verses is neither poetic nor symbolic; but indicate quite literally that the end of the world has arrived.
The world, as it is today, will not last forever. By divine decree it will come to an end. Where is your heart fixed? Is it on the good of this life – that will pass away? Or is it fixed on Christ who will return not only to judge the world, but to bring salvation and victory to those who trust and follow him? If so, then you will not be disappointed. The Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It reveals him as the everlasting and overwhelming victor. You cannot be safe without Jesus, and you cannot but be safe with Him. If you are not a Christian, may I urge you in light of God’s word to put your trust in the Lord Jesus today and ask him to save you from your sin and the wrath to come. If you are a Christian, then set your heart fully on those things in heaven which are yours, and will be yours long after this world has passed away. The hymn says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” For our God is a righteous God.