In the last few weeks, Rev Neil has told us the seven signs and the Beast from the Sea, the False Prophet and the Beast from the earth. Today, we will continue on Revelation 15 and see how God’s final judgment will end. It will be the last plagues and final set of punishment to bring human sins into the full force of justice before Christ returns.
A few years ago when I watched an episode “Doctor Who”, which is a British Sci-Fi TV show about a time-travelling alien called “The Doctor”. The title of that episode is called “The End of the World”. In the story, it says millions of years later will be the end of earth as we know it before it is being swallowed by the heat of the Sun as a red giant. And at the end of the episode, the Ninth Doctor told his friend Rose that “people think things will last forever, but they don’t.” which is a very true statement that we should remember.
Just like that Doctor Who episode, in today’s passage, is about God’s judgment to the end of the world. And yes, the Lord is in charge of the sun, our local star in our solar system is governed by Lord Almighty. God announces in today’s passage that he will use the sun to punish the sins of the world. But first, let us look at Revelation chapter 15.
1) The Victorious Saints and the Song of the Lamb
In Revelation 15:1 John wrote that he had seen another sign from heaven, where seven angels are given seven last plagues. These are the last plagues on earth because God’s wrath is completed. They will finish in the ending of all evil and the end of the world. The sea of glass that we have seen earlier in 4:6 has changed to mixed with fire, signalling the stormy weather of judgment ahead.
In verse 2, John told us that the saints who have overcome the Beast and its image are given harps from God to sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. When we look back in Exodus 15, the song of Moses has great depths of prophetic meaning in the context of salvation. The song begins with “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.” God has a great victory against Egypt at the Red Sea and saved Israel. The Israelites recall the deliverance of the Lord by the annual death of the Passover lamb; and in the fullness of time, following the death of a greater Lamb of God. That is, Jesus, foreshadowing the real Israel, that is us, God’s people, the congregation of the Church, is rescued, and the real Egypt of sin and slavery destroyed. The song of Moses and the song of the lamb are one and the same. God’s deliverance of us from sin by the death of Christ on the Cross is what the meaning behind this song. And the reason we worship God is that as the song’s lyric at the end of verse 4 suggested, “For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:4b). We come together to worship God for his righteous acts of salvation and deliverance by the righteous acts of Christ dying for our sins on the Cross.
So this song reminds us that we must praise God for his deliverance and acknowledge his greatness, and for his judgments over sins of the world. It is not a praise for the suffering of our fellow human beings. Still, we see in these judgments, as in the plagues of the first Exodus, acts of deliverance for God’s people; the sufferings of this age are temporary, like the pain a mother would receive in childbirth, but the pain will last. When the mother waits for the moment of suffering past, there will be a time of joy of life of a newborn. It is just like each of us shall wait for Christ to bring us to him. He will rule for eternity after God’s judgment of sins on earth ends.
2) Introducing the Seven Bowls
Then John saw another vision, out of the heavenly temple of God, came out seven angels with the seven plagues. They dressed up in priestly vestments. The four living creatures from God gave them seven bowls that are filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. That means that though our life may end with its bang or its cry, God’s life continues unaffected. Even if the entire earth is destroyed with a bomb, God is still there. And as we look in this temporal world. The busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done on earth, and when we look forward to that peace, in the end, God is still there.
“And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” (Revelation 15:8) The scene looks like what the Israelites had seen in Mt Sinai when Moses received the tablets of the Law. God is holy and untouchable until the judgment upon sin is completed. These are the punishments of the holy, living God: sevenfold, complete and full punishment for the disobedient. And when God judges, no matter where you flee from the thing you fear, take refuge behind your barricades and locked yourself inside in the basement, you cannot hide from it. Nature is the agent of the wrath of God against his enemies. As the Psalmist declared in Psalm 79:12-13, “Pay back into the laps of our neighbours seven times the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord. 13 Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.”
“Bowls” are symbols for God’s anger, like in Revelation 15:7, and also symbolise the saints’ prayers, as in Revelation 5:8. So these bowls emphasise the importance of prayer in the way God moves history and brings about his purposes. What God seeks, is not only a generation of radical witnesses of Jesus Christ before the end, but he is also seeking a people of prayer. God often uses prayer, which itself moved by God’s Spirit, to prepare for the fulfilment of many of his purposes in history.
These plagues are to reminds us that God is sovereign. The world’s catastrophes, while not directed against each individual who suffers them, often function as wake-up calls to the world, vindicating God’s message and the prayers of his people that one day, God will reveal himself in the world. Such judgments then serve as a foretaste of the final Day of Judgment, to warn people to get ready for it before it is too late.
3) First Four Bowls: Ruin of the Natural Domain
And what are these seven bowls of God’s wrath? Let us look at the first four bowls today. The first four bowls are to ruin the natural domain of God’s creation. When we learnt about the seven trumpets in a few weeks ago, they were partial judgment with God’s warnings. And the trumpets are to bring to a better mind to those who survived them. But now, the plagues poured out of the Bowls are total, because the opportunity for repentance has gone. Everyone who has not been sealed as followers of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ is forever marked as worshippers of the beast, and all of them, not just a third of them, is to suffer. These are not warnings like the trumpets but total punishments.
The first bowl gives ugly, festering sores on the people with the mark of the beast and its image. It recalls the sixth plague of Egypt in Exodus 9:8-12. The words “sores” that is used in the Old Testament is in reference to leprosy, the skin disease. It is an infectious disease that brings physical pain and sores on God’s enemies, the unbelievers. Like the way, God has punished Egypt in Exodus. Still, he was not giving them a warning, because the Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and refused to repent, so with all the beast’s worshippers. They have refused the warnings from heaven, and they must now take the consequences. These bowl judgments concentrated our attention on the unbelieving world, and in a perspective that justifies God’s condemnation upon them.
Then, the second bowl was poured on the sea, “and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.” (Revelation 16:3b) The judgment is similar to the second trumpet in Revelation 8:8, but instead of having the scale of a third of the sea turned into blood, this is a total judgment with every living thing in the sea died. The two scenes of trumpets and bowls of judgment are running in parallel. First earth, then the seas, then rivers, and then the sky are stricken in turn; then come torment, then destruction, and finally the world is no more.
What happens to the sea, in both the second bowl and second trumpet, recalls the first plague of Egypt and Moses struck the Nile River and turned it into blood. In contrast with the Trumpets, this judgment is total, not partial. And the sufferings from the Bowls are also directed against life itself. Not just the warnings of a failing economy and a worsening environment. The sins of mankind have resulted in a divine judgment of all living creatures dead. This signals the death of our planet. Without life in the seas, life on the land cannot exist for long in the ecosystem environment. That is billions of marine corpses decaying as a result of this catastrophe. But be reminded that Apostle John is viewing a supernatural phenomenon rather than a scientific, explainable event.
And then, the third bowl of plagues is spilled onto the rivers and springs of water, the sources of drinkable water. All fresh waters are poisoned. This is a worldwide repetition of the first plague on Egypt under Moses in Exodus 7:14-25. Then the angel in charge of the waters spoke a doxology offered to God, saying, “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; 6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” (Revelation 16:5b-6)
God is just because of his holy nature requires that his judgment on sin be fully expressed. God is who are and who were, exclaiming of God’s holy name “Yahweh”, which means I am who I am and I was, from the beginning to the end of ages. He is forever. The Holy One of Israel who is separated from the rest of the world. And the reason of his judgment is just because of the shedding of blood and violent deaths of God’s holy people and his prophets at the hands of the wicked throughout history, so in the full force of justice of the punishment, God gives them blood to drink as they deserve. And the altar that represents the prayers of the saints, that is God’s world, and God’s church respond with approval of God’s justice and righteousness, “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” (Revelation 16:7b)
After that, in the fourth bowl, the sky is stricken. Last time in the fourth trumpet judgment had darkened the sun’s light. It had affected a third of all heavenly bodies (Revelation 8:12). Still, now, in the four bowl judgment, the sun was given power from God to become a curse rather than a blessing, having its heat intensified, that “the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire” (Revelation 16:8b) The devastation of the sun is a further judgment on human sin. But just like Pharaoh in Exodus who has a hardened heart, people on earth still refuse to repent and “they cursed the name of God who had control over these plagues”. By this time God’s presence is finally recognised, they acknowledged God as the source of their troubles, but they do so only to blaspheme, like their leader the antichrist monster, but not submitting to God. Sometimes people have fallen into sin too much that they are unable and unwilling to repent and glorify God. This is a recurring scene in the judgments throughout the book of Revelation. They are not connected chronologically but logically. What the book is saying, is that again and again trouble will sweep the world, but whenever suffering is caused, God warns us that it cannot be caused with an exception, and whenever God’s warnings go disregarded, he will, in the end, punish the wrongdoers.
While differing interpretations of the details of this chapters may be argued by many bible scholars, John meant to communicate in an overwhelming way that God’s wrath will someday fall, not just on the world of nature, but on the human world that has opposed him. Human nature never changes.
So, we are left with a choice: To believe that God’s future judgment is real and to order our lives accordingly, or to deny it and risk experiencing the judgments described.
Also, what can we learn from all these horrors of Doomsday?
First, God has created this world in order, but we should realise that it is not eternal. Everything will end one day when Christ returns.
Secondly, God is in charge, and he can use nature out of control to bring his anger onto sinners.
Thirdly, when God’s judgment falls, it is always an expression of his holiness and purity, but even the worst punishment for sin is not enough to make some people repent.
Fourthly, God will judge every political and military effort that oppose his rule, even if the entire world joins together to form a one-world government like a beast.
Fifthly, these judgments are real, and they are really going to happen, and it will end the world, as we know it.
So, what can we do about it?
- Humbly submit your life to God as one who is altogether holy and just.
- Don’t waste time trying to figure out the place and the date of Armageddon. No one knows, except our Heavenly Father knows.
- Recognise that some evil people will never repent of their sins no matter what. They will receive the judgment from God as they deserved at the end.
- Recognise that nothing in this world will last. Everything in this world is only temporal. Only God and his eternal kingdom will last forever. So be thankful to God for his creation, and wait for His Kingdom Come.