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Revelation 16: The Bowl Judgments

June 1st, 2015

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

Revelation 16:1

The Bowl Judgments represent the final judgments of God upon the earth before the return of Christ.

Judgment is justified on the basis of several factors. First, the One who judges must be beyond reproach, and since it is God who judges we can say that this qualification is completely met. He who is above all, who created all, owns all, the One to whom all and each are required to give an answer is qualified to judge. When He judges He is not some interloper meddling in an affair about which He has no concern, rather He is dealing with that which owes its very existence to Him.

Second, judgment is justified when the one who is judged has been plainly and clearly warned. Romans 1:18-32 claims without question the authority of God to judge and condemn all humanity on the basis of our moral failings.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in righteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them … and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness … who, knowing the righteous judgment of God that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

God has not only warned humanity but has repeatedly done so. And He has warned us in His Word, in our consciences, and by showing us plainly the result of immoral behavior through the principles He has interwoven into human society. We can see what immorality has done to others around us, and yet human beings still stubbornly imagine that we will be the one life or the one society in the history of the world that will not be destroyed by wrong-doing – we imagine that sin is ignored, that judgment will never come, that God is weak and helpless.

Third, judgment is justified when by its nature it is fairly dispensed and poured out in accordance with the level of wrong-doing. Let us remember that these are judgments against the Antichrist and his followers, who by definition oppose Christ and God. Immorality and sin does not stay only within the life or home of the sinner, but sin impacts others – it effects innocent victims. These are judgments against a world that has witnessed grace and mercy and justice and have chosen to angrily reject them all. Though in this chapter of Revelation these are graphic descriptions of worldwide outpourings of judgments, this is not all that the Bible says about judgment, and we can leave these matters on an individual basis into the hands of God.

During the third bowl judgment an angel cries out, “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. for it is their just due” (Rev 16:5-6). And then another angel from the altar echoes the same: “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your Judgments” (Rev. 16:7).

Fourth, God’s judgment is especially justified when He has already born the punishment Himself and offers forgiveness and mercy. He pours out His on the unbelieving and rebellious but He has first poured it out on Himself. He has already born the natural result of sin on the cross. The principle of justice that God has woven into the universe – the principle of action and effect of action, of wrongdoing and judgment – He has experienced out of love.

Finally, judgment is justified when there is an alternative to judgment – salvation. The death of Christ for our sins is God’s solution to the hurt and pain of the world, and there is no other solution available that will save us. God has repeatedly offered mercy and does so even today, and will continue to do so up until the end for any who will turn from sin and trust in Christ. The judgments are to convince the hardest of sinners to repent before it is too late.

These judgments are not the final judgment of God; they are called “plagues” (Rev. 16:9) and as such they are intermediate judgments that might cause people to re-think, to repent, and to trust in Him. Their outpourings inform the world that God’s original design of creation is the best and wisest and finest imaginable, and that by rejecting God’s conventions of morality and ethics and launching out into a human redesign of society, they have taken a foolish step, resulting in the damage to many, resulting in violence, discord, and chaos.

The Seven Bowl Judgments or Plagues:

  • The first bowl of God’s wrath (16:2) results in “a foul and loathsome sore” that comes upon the men who had the mark of the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Perhaps this refers to a type of sexually transmitted disease which is untreatable. Today our society toys with such things, and increasingly antibiotic resistant sexually transmitted infections are become more and more common, and harder to treat.
  • The second bowl (16:3), the sea becomes blood and every living creature in the sea died. It is perhaps intended only to mean the Mediterranean Ocean, but if so then doubtless it will have great impact worldwide.
  • The third bowl (16:4-7), the rivers and springs of water become blood in just retaliation against the martyrdom of believers and prophets.
  • The fourth bowl (16:8-9), the sun scorches men with fire, and this possibly means the eroding of the protective atmosphere of the earth to the point of merciless and destructive power of the sun. Yet this will not result in their repentance, rather they will continue to blaspheme God.
  • The fifth bowl (16:10-11), darkness on the throne of the beast (Antichrist) and they “gnawed their tongues because of the pain” (16:10). The nature of this darkness, whether physical or only spiritual, is a question of debate, especially in light of the fourth bowl judgment. But unquestionably the greatest problem will be spiritual and the darkness means chaos, confusion, distress, disorder.
  • The sixth bowl (16:12-16), the Euphrates River dries up (we assume the Tigris is also included) and three unclean spirits, like frogs, leap from the mouth of the unholy trinity and go out to deceive the powers of the world and gather them together in the place called Armageddon. The dried riverbed allows for the mobilization of ground troops and mechanized armies to invade Palestine from the east. Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan would be the nations whose armies will be most benefited from the drying up of the Euphrates.
  • The seventh bowl (16:17-21), the final judgment includes thunderings, lightnings, a great earthquake, a great hail storm. Yet people continued to blaspheme God, unrepentant over sin and blaming God for all of the problems.

The spirit of the age is described in Proverbs 19:3, “A man’s own folly ruins his life but his heart rages against the Lord.” God has given us responsibility, and our failure results in sufferings, yet like spoiled children we crave freedom and shun responsibility. In God’s world, however, the two go together.

The repentant spirit accepts our failure and says, “Be merciful to me, O God, a sinner!” When we see the problems of the world we should not blame God. He did not create them. He created us and told us how to live and we as a race have gone our own way. The problems are the result of our sin, not God’s failure. Whenever anyone accepts this and repents and turns to Christ in faith there is immediate salvation and peace. This is where we begin and then follow Christ in our actions, seeking to be sources of blessings and redemption to others. Christ called us the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16), and in Him we can bless others and help others. It is not too late today, but it is becoming later and later. One day the door shall be closed, people will be so hard as to be unwilling to change at all, and it seems this day is getting closer every moment.

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The Wrath of God Is Complete

May 28th, 2015

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.

Revelation 15:1

In the drama of the end of this age Chapter 15 serves as a solemn lull in the action, a final pause before the end comes. The scene shifts to heaven. Seven angels appear with seven plagues, which are the final seven judgments against a rebellious world (15:1). The faithful redeemed in heaven also appear singing the “song of Moses” and “of the Lamb.” And then the heavenly temple was opened and the seven angels emerge, one of the “four living creatures” (Rev. 4:6-9) gives the angels seven bowls “full of the wrath of God.” The temple is filled with smoke from the glory of God and no one could enter, meaning no one could make intercession for the world, until the final plagues are completed.

The scene reveals the sovereignty of God, His holiness and power. He is the One who decides when the end will come and what will be the form of it. That the angels, the redeemed saints, and the living creatures are all part of the judgment affirms the righteousness of His judgment against the world.

Today His heart is open to intercession, and as in times past, when God’s judgment was postponed due to intercession. Such as when God told Moses that He would destroy the nation of Israel, and Moses prayed for the people and God relented from His plans to destroy them (Exodus 32:9-14,30-35). Moses prayed that if God would not forgive the sin of Israel “blot me out of Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:32). God’s judgment against Nineveh was postponed in Jonah’s day due to the people’s repentance (Jon 3:10). Paul also pleaded for Israel with the same passion as Moses, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).

Today, in fact, He often marvels that there is not more intercession. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 59:16). Christ commanded us to pray for “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). We are weak in prayer and forget that God listens to His people, that He wants us to be involved in the salvation of the world not only through going and telling, but also through praying and interceding. Evangelism is not only speaking to people about God, it is also speaking to God about people.

But in the final judgments against the world system, God’s ear will be closed to intercession. The time will come when His righteous wrath will be released, and the whole of the heavenly host will testify that He acts with justice.

General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the congress of the United States (April 19, 1951), made these salient points: “Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very objective is victory, not prolonged indecision.”  In the speech he also quoted himself in a speech he made in September, 1945, on the Battleship Missouri at the formal peace signing of World War II.

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter  destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

His points were well made, and should be also well taken by the world. But an inevitability also hangs in the air. At the close of one bloody war, another one begins. After victory on the battlefield, the demoralization of the victors begins. No one should question God’s patience and His long standing offer of salvation to the world. This “prolonged indecision” that is life today on planet earth, will end one day, and it exists still out of God’s desire that none “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). But the human race has largely rejected God’s grace and His moral precepts, and will continue to reject them until the inevitable end comes.

The solution of God to the problems of the world is ultimately to destroy the world through righteous judgment and to start again with a new and redeemed humanity. He will ultimately remove the tempter, and judge the unrepentant, and bring this world “to a swift end,” to quote MacArthur. His judgment, in that sense, is good news, in that it prepares for true life.

One cannot study this without some profound sense of solemnity. Today marks the birth of our fourth grandchild, a beautiful little girl, we received news last night, yet we must wonder what type of world are we leaving for her. There is still much hope and joy and goodness in the world. Yet there are also many social movements that will push us further into chaos and decline. Today 40% of American children are raised without fathers in the home. The first institution of human society was the home – husband and wife and children – and it has been proven repeatedly, “As goes marriage, so goes society.” Yet we are now foolish enough as to try and re-engineer this foundational institution, accepting homosexual marriage in many nations and states. There is no way that such an outcome will be positive – neither in the short run not in the long run.

We are reached the day when we act no differently than the inhabitants of Sodom who pleaded that angels would be given over to them as sex objects (Gen. 19:5). Our violence against one another constantly increases, and we are again acting in the spirit that brought the Great Flood, “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).

There is an unerring moral scale that comes from the heart of God. Justice is an integral element in His nature, and it is woven into the universe as an indispensable principle. It was God’s justice that demanded a sacrifice for our sin, and Christ paid that price. He died for us. And only through repentance and faith in Him is our sin atoned for, and we are forgiven. But none of us will ever escape having to deal with the moral recompense for our actions. We either repent now and trust in Christ, and later still answer to Him in His Judgment Seat (2 Cor. 5:10), or we stand before the judgment of Almighty God, defenseless and guilty. His judgment will be just, as it always is, and the very nature of justice should frighten us.

In His judgment He also must condemn and judge this immoral world. The pause of Revelation 15 prepares us for the final judgment. Judgment comes as a pathway to the new world and the new hope that He has created for us. We have hope in Christ, eternal life and eternal peace. The old and corrupt must go to make room for the new and beautiful and pure.

There is good news in this passage because it promises and end to the misery of fallen humanity’s world and even to the judgments of God against it. There will come a time when God says, “Enough.” Just as Christ cried from the cross, “It is finished!” so will one day God cry out that His judgments are completed.  After the storm comes the peace and calm of a new beginning.

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