Revelation: Seven Bowls of Wrath

June 26, 2011

Rev 16:1  Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

God had completed his warnings with the six trumpets. The enemy had not repented. Now God unleashed his full wrath on the enemies of the church, through seven bowls of wrath. The first four bowls are poured out on the land, the sea, the rivers and streams, and the sky. Compare this to Rev 8:7-13 where the first four trumpets brought forth destruction on one third of the land, the sea, the rivers and streams, and sky. That was the warning. This time, God’s full wrath was poured out on the land, the sea, the rivers and streams, and the sky. This was no warning shot over the bow. Judgment was coming upon the beast and Babylon the Great.

The fifth bowl brought darkness and intense painful suffering upon the beast. Compare this to the agony from scorpions at the fifth trumpet.

The sixth bowl dried up the Euphrates river, opening up the way for invaders from the east.  A fact or two from past history sheds light on the sixth bowl.   In 593 BC, Cyrus was about to invade Babylon.  The Euphrates river flowed through he center of the heavily fortified city of Babylon.  In a brilliant tactical move, the armies of Cyrus temporarily diverted the waters of the Euphrates river, leaving a clear path into the city where the river had been.  The sixth bowl of wrath brought to mind this now famous vulnerability that had led to the fall of the supposedly impenetrable ancient city.  The Euphrates was now the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire.  Like the literal Babylon, the figurative Babylon would fall to invaders pouring across its borders, despite its presumed invulnerability.

Meanwhile, the dragon and the two beasts were not idle.

Rev 16:13  Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
Rev 16:14  They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

The armies of the world gathered together for a great final battle at Armageddon. This battlefield, like the many strange creatures and places in this prophecy, is a symbol. The literal Armageddon was a site for many historic battles, and it represents the final epic battle between God and the beast. The battle’s outcome was never in doubt:

Rev 16:17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
Rev 16:18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.
Rev 16:19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.
Rev 16:20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.
Rev 16:21 From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

So the enemy is utterly defeated. The angel announces the result at the beginning of chapter 18:

Rev 18:1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.
Rev 18:2 With a mighty voice he shouted: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
Rev 18:3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Indeed, Babylon had fallen, and the beast is defeated.  Now chapters 17 and 18 will tell of their fate.


Revelation: Encouragement and Warnings

June 19, 2011

Rev 14:1  Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
Rev 14:2  And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
Rev 14:3  And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
Rev 14:4  These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Rev 14:5  No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

Here a vision is given of the 144,000 in heaven! Just a few chapters earlier, they had been marked by the angel to protect them from the plagues God was sending upon the Roman Empire. In this vision, the recipients of the prophesy see themselves victorious in heaven! What an encouragement this must have been to those brothers and sisters, who would soon face martyrdom. But the message of encouragement also came with a sobering warning:

Rev 14:7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Rev 14:8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
Rev 14:9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand,
Rev 14:10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.
Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
Rev 14:12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.

Then the prophecy shows one like a “son of man” preparing to take a sickle and reap the grapes from the earth, and to throw them into the winepress of God’s wrath. It was time for the final destruction of the beast.

Rev 15:1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.

The time had come to pour out the seven bowls of wrath!


Revelation: The Beast Makes War

June 19, 2011

Rev 12:17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Rev 13:1 And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
Rev 13:2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

The dragon, intent on making war against the church, brought forth a beast from the sea, gave the beast power to make war against the saints and to conquer them (vs 7). The beast was given authority over ever tribe, people, language, and nation. He would be worshipped by the entire world except for those belonging to the Lamb, the Christians. This beast could be none other than the Roman Empire.
The church would be severely tested by the beast:

Rev 13:10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

The dragon brought forth a second beast from the earth. This beast worked in support of the first beast, making people worship the first beast, and executing those who refused. Only those who worshipped the first beast could obtain a mark designating them as loyal subjects of Rome, entitling them safely to perform such public activities as buying and selling in the marketplace.   This second beast was also empowered to perform miracles to deceive the people.  In all likelihood the second beast is the false prophet of Rev 16:13-14 and Rev 19:20.

The revelation given to John identifies this second beast by the number 666.  Undoubtedly this clue was understood by the original recipients of the book.  But despite the many attempts to decipher it today, there is no definitive answer to its interpretation.  What we can reasonably assume is that it was sufficiently clear to identify the second beast to those who, at the hand of this beast, would face the choice of either abandoning Christ or being executed for their faithfulness.


Revelation: The Dragon Makes War

June 19, 2011

As we enter chapter 12, we have a change of scene as well as a change of timeframe. From the beginning of the apocalyptic timeline in Revelation 4 and 5, we saw the Lamb who had been slain, who was raised again and who opened the seven seals. We positively identified the Lamb as Jesus Christ, and noted that he had already been crucified and raised from the dead. But now, in chapter 12, we read of the birth of a male child who would “rule with an iron scepter” (vs 5). This is a quote from the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2:9, removing all doubt that this child is the Christ. In chapter 5, he had been slain and raised to life. In chapter 12, he is just being born. So chapter 12 starts with a flashback to the birth of Jesus.

Rev 12:1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
Rev 12:2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

Who is the woman? She gave birth to the Messiah, and is also attributed with other offspring, “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (vs 17) We know that Jesus was a Jew, descended from Judah (Heb 7:4), descended from Abraham (Matt 1). We also know that the Christian church was brought into the world as spiritual descendents of Abraham (Rom 4:17). So the woman represents the chosen people of God, through whom God brought Jesus into the world, and through whom God established the church.

Rev 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.
Rev 12:4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.

A dragon threatens the woman and her child! Just a few verses later we learn who this dragon is:

Rev 12:9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him

First Satan attempted to destroy Christ directly, while Christ was on earth. But Christ was raised from the dead! So Satan was hurled down to the earth:

Rev 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
Rev 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Rev 12:12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Rev 12:13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
Rev 12:14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.
Rev 12:15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.
Rev 12:16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
Rev 12:17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

So in chapter 12 we have the background for the war between Satan and the church, following the resurrection of the Christ.


Revelation: The Seventh Seal and the Seven Trumpets

June 12, 2011

(Rev 8:1-6) When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

With the opening of the seventh seal, a remarkable silence enveloped heaven, filling the air with anticipation and wonder about what would happen next. Then seven angels with seven trumpets were revealed. As the first four angels sounded their trumpets in sequence, four waves of desolation swept over the earth. Hail and fire and blood. A burning mountain thrown into the sea. A great star falling into the rivers and springs of water. The sun, moon, and stars being struck. And an eagle warning of three woes coming from the remaining three trumpets.

A star fell, opened the Abyss, and released a plague of terrible locusts with stings like scorpions. They tortured the unbelievers for five months.

An invading army attacked, mounted on terrifying horses breathing out deadly fire, smoke, and sulphur.

The invaders destroyed a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and all of the green grass. A third of the sea turned to blood. A third of the creatures in the sea were killed, and a third of the ships were destroyed. A third of the rivers and springs turned bitter and killed many people. A third of the day was without light, and a third of the night. A third of mankind was killed.

As before, these images of devastation are symbolic of severe discipline and warnings of the full wrath of God against the beast, the Roman Empire. There would be a series of disasters over a period of time, each round further weakening the nation. Up to this point, the devastation would be only partial (one third), to give the survivors an opportunity for repentance. Yet Rome would refuse to repent.

Rev 10:5-7 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”

The seventh trumpet would signal the complete destruction of the unrepentant enemy. Before the blowing of the seventh and final trumpet, the angel gives John a small scroll to eat and commands him to prophesy. He is commanded to measure the temple and to count the worshippers, but to exclude the outer court. Again God was designating who would be protected from the onslaught that would follow. Those inside the temple, the people of God, would be protected — both from the desolation sent by God, and from the attacks that would come from the enemy. But those outside the temple would face desolation under the wrath of God.

Next John describes two witnesses who would continue to prophesy during the 42 month (1260 day) period when the outer court would be trampled by the Gentiles. The witnesses represent those who continued to prophesy boldly during the period when the church was being persecuted by the Roman Empire. They would torment the inhabitants of the earth with their warnings and prophecies. The two witnesses would complete their testimony, and would join the ranks of the martyrs. They would ascend to heaven in the sight of those who killed them. A severe earthquake would then bring the inhabitants of the earth out of their brief celebration just as the third woe was about to be revealed. The enemies of the church would come to realize that they had failed to destroy the church, and that instead it was themselves who would be destroyed.


Revelation: The 144,000 and the Multitude

June 5, 2011

By the end of chapter 6, six of the seven seals have been opened. Before opening the seventh and final seal, the opening of seals paused so the Christians on earth could be marked and protected.

Rev 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Rev 7:2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea:
Rev 7:3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

There were 144,000 servants of God who were to be sealed — twelve thousand, from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Those sealed were still on earth, where the four winds were being held back. They were marked so that the plagues and destruction sent by God would not fall upon them, but rather just upon their oppressor.

Remember, by the time Revelation was written, the Israel of God was the church (Rom 2:28-29, Gal 3:7-9, Phil 3:3, etc). So these 144,000 were Christians. The number 144,000 is symbolic — twelve times twelve times a thousand — representing the thoroughness with which God would mark and protect his people. Not one would be missing.

Meanwhile we also get another glimpse of heaven:

Rev 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Rev 7:10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Rev 7:11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,
Rev 7:12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Rev 7:13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
Rev 7:14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev 7:15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Rev 7:16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
Rev 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Here in heaven, worshipping before the throne of God, was another group in white robes. These are clearly identified as having come out of the great tribulation. These include the martyrs, to whom we saw white robes being given after the fifth seal was opened. These former martyrs are revealed to the saints remaining on earth, who were under threat of martyrdom themselves. The potential future martyrs are being reassured that they, too, will worship in heaven before the throne of God; that they will be cared for by the Great Shepherd; that they will be led to springs of living water; and that God would wipe away every tear from their eyes. Their faithfulness would be richly rewarded! The message to them is the same as that given to the church in Smyrna:

Rev 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.


Revelation: The Fifth and Sixth Seals

June 5, 2011

The fifth seal revealed the central message of the entire Revelation:

Rev 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
Rev 6:10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Rev 6:11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

By this time (circa 95 AD) many Christians had already died for their faith in Jesus. These martyrs cried out for God to avenge their deaths. In response they were reassured with a gift of a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer. There were still more who would be martyred by this oppressor before he would be subdued.

The sixth seal reveals yet more disciplinary action by God.

Rev 6:12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,
Rev 6:13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.
Rev 6:14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Rev 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
Rev 6:16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
Rev 6:17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

God was assuring the saints that the day was coming when He would avenge their blood. The fearful events that would come on that day were described using familiar symbols from Old Testament prophecy. Again, these symbols would have been familiar to the Christians.

Isaiah prophesied about the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem:

Isa 2:19 Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.
Isa 2:20 In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship.
Isa 2:21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.

In another place, Isaiah compared the fall of Babylon to the stars, the sun and the moon being darkened:

Isa 13:9 See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.
Isa 13:10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.

And in another place Isaiah wrote concerning the fall of Edom:

Isa 34:4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

Hosea wrote concerning the fall of Samaria:

Hos 10:8 The high places of wickedness will be destroyed— it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!”

And Joel wrote, prophesying the events at the time of the cross:

Joe 2:30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
Joe 2:31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.

The events unveiled by opening the sixth seal were standard prophetic symbols for the day of God’s wrath. Their meaning was no more literal in Revelation 6 than in the day of those Old Testament prophets. These were symbols, but with a corresponding reality.

We have previously determined that the chief persecutor was Satan, acting through the beast representing the Roman Empire. On the day of God’s wrath, no man would stand — least of all, Caesar. On that day he would find out who is Lord and who is not.