Do you like a good, epic action movie? Every good film must have conflicts, and there is always a final battle before the protagonist and the antagonist. No matter it is Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel’s Avengers End Game, or any war movies; there is always a showdown between the good guys and the bad guys. And as you know, the Book of Revelation is a pretty epic story involving the good of God’s kingdom and the bad of the satanic Beast’s dominion. So it is expected to have some battle scenes between good and evil. And today’s passage will also focus on the battle called Armageddon.
1) The fifth bowl of darkness
When the fifth angel pours out his bowl of wrath upon the throne of the Beast, darkness settles over the kingdom, and people gnawed their tongues in pain. The throne of the Beast would be his authority or dominion. In John’s day, Rome was the geographical focus of that power. The devil has invaded the whole structure of society and perverted it to his ends. The ‘world’, that is, the organisation of human society without reference to God, is the result. That is the modern society that we are living in today. It is the Satanic counterpart of God’s society, the church. It is the kingdom of the Beast as opposed to the kingdom of Christ. But God is vindicated when godless society, which rose so proudly against him and his church and claimed to provide a possible alternative, is shown to be unequal to the task. The book of Daniel, who witnessed to the true God in the pagan world systems of his day, is full of this message: that ‘the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will’ (Daniel 4:17). God is in charge, and his judgment upon the throne of the Beast indicates his power and might over all powers on earth. The Beast will not last; its time of power is limited.
The resulting darkness from the fifth bowl resembles of the ninth Egyptian plague (Exodus 10:21–29). This supernatural darkness not only intensifies the distress of the previous plagues but also adds a terror of its own. Even so, those who bear the mark of the Beast will not turn to God on this account. They will suffer, by no means in silence, and they throw the blame on God. Far from repenting of their evil, the followers of the Beast curse God because of their pains and sores. They have become one in character with their evil master, whose most characteristic activity is to blaspheme God and his followers. The people realise that these judgments come from God because they curse him for sending them. But they still refuse to recognise God’s authority and repent of their sins.
As Christians, we should not be surprised at the hostility and hardness of heart of unbelievers. Even when the power of God is fully and completely revealed, many will still refuse to repent. But don’t wait until “just the right time” before turning to God. Do it now while you still have the chance. If you continually ignore God’s warnings, you will eventually be unable to hear him at all.
Over the last 20 years, I have met many atheists who refused to believe in God. Maybe your unbelieving friends having a similar attitude toward God. Whenever you bring up the gospel in conversation, they will deny it and trying to disprove everything you have said. They think God is Christians’ imaginary friend in the sky, and when you invite them to any church events, they would reject you and say things like, “Later. It is not the right time for me yet.” But the truth is, there will never be a right time. Jesus will not wait but suddenly return like a thief.
As Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thess 1:8-10).
2) The sixth bowl and Armageddon
After that, when the sixth bowl is poured out upon the Euphrates River, the river dries up and opening a way for the kings from the East. There is a literary parallel between the sixth bowl and the sixth trumpet judgment. A few weeks ago we learnt that when the sixth trumpet sounded, four angels bound at the Euphrates were released to lead an army of monstrous horses to the slaughter of one-third of the world’s population (Revelation 9:13–19). The Euphrates marked the eastern boundary of the land given by covenant to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:18). It also separated the Roman Empire on the East from the much-feared Parthians whose expert cavalry bowmen had conquered the entire territory from the Euphrates to the Indus. It is frequently pointed out that in the Old Testament that God’s redemptive acts were associated with the drying up of water like in the Red Sea in Exodus (Exodus 14:21) and when the Israelites entered into Canaan (Joshua 3:14–17). But in this context, it is the enemy that is allowed to advance for war by the drying up of the Euphrates. The enemy is called the kings of the East.
Identification of the kings from the East has been highly debated amongst many bible scholars. It could be future global leaders from the Middle East or the Far East in Asia. Without doubt, however, John’s first readers would have thought of the Parthians, who was a constant threat from the East to the Roman Empire in the first century. The Euphrates River usually stopped the Parthians; But if this natural defensive boundary were suddenly missing and an eastern army would cross freely, it would be time to panic. However, events predicted here play out in the final end times; it will mean time to panic for the Antichrist monster and his forces. For the first time since he came to power, he will face a significant and serious military threat from the East.
Apostle John then saw another vision, and he wrote in verse 13, “Then I saw three impure 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. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform 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.” (Revelation 16:13-14)
These frog-like evil spirits form an unholy trinity: The dragon is the devil; the Beast is Antichrist; the false prophet is the one previously called the beast “out of the earth” from Revelation 13:11. They summon all their forces together. And these evil spirits are persuasive in deeds. With one final triumph of wicked deception, they perform miraculous signs, and they gather all the kings of the world, that is, the global world leaders together for battle on the great day of God Almighty. The place they gathered together is called “Armageddon” in Hebrew.
This battlefield called Armageddon is near the city of Megiddo in the southeast of the modern port of Haifa in northern Israel. It is a strategic location near a prominent international highway leading north from Egypt through Israel, along the coast, and on to Babylon. Megiddo overlooked the entire plain southward toward Galilee and westward toward the mountains of Gilboa.
The more common biblical reference to God’s judgment on the nations is the day of the Lord. In the Old Testament, it appears only in eight prophetic books (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Malachi). This is the last battle, the Day of the Lord long predicted by the ancient prophets. They understand that the “great day of God” began with the “grain harvest” (Revelation 14:14–16) and concludes with the “grape vintage” (Revelation 14:17–20). They know that Christ will return to harvest his people at the beginning of the day of the Lord. And Jesus reminds us what he had told us about that day in Luke 12:39, “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16:15)
Jesus Christ will return unexpectedly. As Apostle Paul warned us in his letter in 1 Thessalonians, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6), so we must be ready when Christ returns.
Although as Christians, we have been redeemed by Christ, Jesus requires us to live so that we will not be ashamed if he returned today. Christ’s people are to focus on their readiness for his return, not the war of evil forces coming against them. We can prepare ourselves by standing firm in temptation and by being committed to God’s moral standards. In what ways does your life show either your readiness or your lack of preparation for Christ’s return?
Sinful people will unite to fight against God in a final display of rebellion. Many are already united against Christ and his people—those who stand for truth, peace, justice, and morality. Many people in our days have already displayed the warning signs of uniting together against God’s Word in grassroots movements in Australia. Only two weeks ago, there was a headline in the newspaper that some politicians and the New South Wales Teachers Federation are leading a campaign to remove scripture classes from public schools, saying they are ‘inappropriate’ and taking away from other subjects. They want the Bible out of the public school system. We are expected to see more and more conflicts against God’s church and God’s Word from the secular world in the coming years.
Also, our personal battle with evil foreshadows the great battle pictured here, where God will meet evil and destroy it once and for all. Be strong and courageous as you battle against sin and evil: You are fighting on the winning side. Remember, Jesus has died for your sin, and he has already won the final battle against the devil. But the Bible tells us that as Christians, we all battle the sins of the flesh.
In Colossians 3:5-9, Apostle Paul tells us to put to death the members of our body with regard to a list of sins that characterised our old way of life. So, to win against sin, we need to live in light of our new identity in the risen Christ.
Instead of sin tempt us in our lives, Jesus tells us to set our mind on the things above. It is a continual process. To keep seeking these things means to make the truths of Christ as revealed in God’s Word, our constant pursuit, our focus, our aim. Just as worldly people get up early and are focused day after day on pursuing material things, so Christians should be devoted to pursuing the things of Christ. The Lord expects us to work and live in this world, but instead of working for the food that perishes, we should work for the food which endures to eternal life (John 6:27). We should seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We should begin each day thinking about God’s perspective: We’re separate from this evil world, dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ. We think about Christ as our life, who lives in and through us. Throughout the day, we keep bringing our thoughts back, again and again, to those things, which are true of us in Christ. To “set your mind on the things above” shows that this continual pursuit of the things above involves our thinking.
God has called us to fight our personal battles against sin, and against the evil spirits that dominate this fallen world in the battle of Armageddon.
3) The seventh bowl of earthquake and hail
Finally, the seventh bowl of judgment is poured out into the air, and God’s judgment is completed. The voice of God from the throne cries out, “It’s done!” Just like Jesus’ final words when he was on the Cross. And what is done? The seventh bowl completes the wrath of God, both the devastation of nature with the ultimate earthquake and the final destruction of the Beast by destroying Babylon. It is the final doom—for the air itself to become hostile to humanity. Also, this is the final doomsday quake on earth. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous it is, the final global earthquake that undoes planet Earth. This is the final shaking of nature from which there is no recovery, and it is the doom of the great city Babylon – sudden destruction. The monster’s kingdom. His city split into three parts, that is, into total ruin, the cities of the nations collapsed. If we take this literally, it is the end of all that human political and military might have ever accomplished. And God must send his final judgment. Verse 20 says, “Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.”
This is the end of the drama. And John wrote this to tell us that God’s final display of wrath will unravel the forces of nature and the forces of the Antichrist, pointing to one final battle “on the great day of God Almighty”.
So what can we learn today?
- God is in charge of the outpouring of his wrath from first to last.
- God can use nature out of control to bring his anger onto sinners.
- When God’s judgment falls, it is an expression of his holiness and purity.
- Even the worst punishment for sin is not enough to make some people repent.
- God will judge all political and military efforts that oppose his rule.
- Armageddon is really going to happen.
- The end-of-the-world earthquake will destroy the new Babylon and the anti-Christ’s domain.
And what can we do when we understand what God is going to do on earth in his day of judgment?
- Humbly submit our life to God as one who is altogether holy and just.
- Recognise that some evil people will never repent of their sins no matter what.
- Keep Jesus’ words in our hearts: “Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed” Be ready for Christ’s return. It can happen at any moment.