Session 16

Revelation Study – Session 16


Overview of the seven signs in 12:1 – 15:4:

1.      A woman and her son (12:1-2, 56)

2.      A great red dragon (12:3-4)

3.      A beast from the sea (13:1-10)

4.      A beast from the earth (13:11-18)

5.      The Lamb with 144,000 people with His name on their foreheads (14:1-5)

6.      A vision of angels (14:6-20)

7.      Seven angels with seven plagues (15:1-4) – Transition to the next series of seven, the 7 bowls of wrath


The 7th Sign – Seven angels with seven plagues (15:1-8)


            Various interludes in Revelation have been mentioned.  Chapter 15 contains the final one before the total judgment as seen in the seven bowls.  It presents the praise and thanksgiving of the saints in heaven, and introduces the seven bowls of God’s judgment upon the wicked on earth. 


      Verse 1 - “...the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.” - These plagues were God’s final expression of judgment as seen in Rome’s fall and the complete defeat of Satan and his angels.


      Verse 2 - “...a sea of glass mixed with fire.”  -    Before telling about the plagues, John was given a vision of the glorified saints in heaven (v.2).  They have become victorious over the beast, his image, and the number of his name (666).  In Revelation 4:6, the sea before God’s throne was white like crystal.  Some have suggested that the red color (fire) of the sea represents the blood of God’s people spilled on earth.


Verse 2 - “the harps of God.” - They sing praises to God:  the song of Moses and of the Lamb (v.3).  As Moses had led Israel across the Red Sea, the Lamb led the martyred saints as they crossed a red sea of the blood of persecution.  Thus they sang songs of deliverance, redemption, and victory (v.4).


      Verse 5- “the temple of the tabernacle”  - This was the heavenly counterpart of the tabernacle in the wilderness which was called “the tabernacle of testimony” (Num. 9:15) and “witness” (Num. 17:7; 18:2).  This Temple scene reminds the reader that  God is one of both mercy and judgment.  He is a God of mercy to those who believe in him, and a God of judgment to those who reject him.


      Verse 6- “clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their breasts with golden girdles” – Dressed in vestments of priests, but their mission was judgment.


      Verse 7 - “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” – Completeness of God’s wrath on those who persecute His people...


      Verse 8 - “temple filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power...” – Storm clouds of final, complete judgment on Rome gathering...


ACT V - SEVEN BOWLS OF WRATH (16:1-21) – Previous judgments depicted in Revelation were partial.  In the judgments connected with the seals and trumpets, only portions of the earth were affected.  With the bowl judgments, there is total destruction.  In the trumpet judgments, not until the fifth judgment was man affected.  With the bowls, man is afflicted from the beginning.


The similarity between the Egyptian plagues and the bowl judgments should be noted.  Thus we may say that God judges anyone or any group in history that opposed him.  But specifically, the scene in Revelation probably should be viewed as God’s complete judgment on Rome and a preview of God’s judgment at the end of the age.  When men refuse to repent at the partial judgments in history, as seen in the seals and trumpets, final and complete judgment comes.  These judgments, however, should not be confused with the final judgment as seen in Revelation 20; they lead up to it. 


The first bowl (6:1-2) - When the first angel poured out the contents of his bowl on earth “it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”   These worshipers of Domitian had afflicted God’s people; now God afflicted them.  Having shown no mercy they received none.  This figure was probably drawn from Exodus 9:10-11 (plague of boils).


The second bowl (6:3) - The second bowl was emptied into the sea (v.3). Therefore, the sea became as the blood of a dead man, coagulated blood.  Thus it was fatal to animal life and to all marine life.  This also could include seafaring people.  Since the sea was a major source of food, this would be a terrible judgment upon the empire as a whole.


The third bowl (6:4-7) - Following the order of the trumpet judgments, the third bowl was poured out into fresh water.  All water, not a part, became blood (v.4).  Thus all drinking water was lost.  This was a just judgment (v.5).  Pagans had shed the blood of God’s people; they seemed to like blood so much that God gave it to them to drink (v.6).  


The fourth bowl (6:8-9) – The fourth angel emptied his bowl upon the sun.  Thus the sun was enabled to scorch with fire.  This source of life became a source of death.  But instead of repenting, the scorched men blasphemed God’s name.  This meant that they spoke insultingly to and of him.  They blamed him, not themselves, for their suffering.  Having lost the power to repent, they were subjected to complete judgment. 


The fifth bowl (6:10-11) - This emptying struck at the seat of the beast’s authority - the city of Rome.  When this judgment was poured upon the throne of the beast, his kingdom was covered with darkness (see Ex. 10:22-23).  The darkness in Egypt lasted for three days but no mention is made of the end of this darkness. It was completely dark.  But again no repentance.  Rather the people “kept on gnawing” their tongues out of pain and distress.  With their tongues they blasphemed, not their pagan gods, but “the God of heaven” (V. 11).  During this general period of persecution, the Romans blamed every calamity on the Christians.  Nero blamed them for the burning of the city of Rome, when he actually did it.  They went on worshiping Domitian and their idols.  This suggested the utter rottenness of the Empire.


Darkness suggested confusion and total evil in the Empire.  While Rome was in darkness, heaven was bright with God’s glory.  So, God’s enemies were left to their own evil devices.  They were actually devouring and destroying themselves!  This picture is true of any age.  God permits unrepentant evil to do its worst to itself.


The sixth bowl (6:12) - This bowl was poured out upon the Euphrates river (v.12).  Thus the water of the river was dried up, opening the way for Rome’s enemies to invade her Empire. This suggested the complete releasing of the Parthian hordes.  In the overall picture, these would fight for God, though unknowingly, in destroying the Roman Empire, God used even those who did not recognize Him.


Interlude between 6th and 7th bowls

In the brief interlude between the sixth and seventh bowls of wrath, John gives us an interesting sidelight concerning the reaction of the godless empire to these mighty judgments.  Just when it appears that the wicked kingdom is about to succumb to these might blast from God’s atomic arsenal, we see three slick, slimy frogs come forth out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the second beast).  These three frogs go forth up and down the land, seeking recruits for a great battle that about to occur.  The place of the battle is called in Hebrew “Har-Magedon” or “Armageddon.”

Much has been said about this battle of Armageddon.  The futurists especially have made much of it.  They interpret it as being a literal struggle with the customary instruments of warfare at some future date in a particular spot in the land of Palestine.  To be consistent, if one takes the reference to Armageddon literally, then he ought also to take the reference to the tree slick, slimy frogs literally.  Both references appear in the same passage; yet no one ever suggests that there will be three frogs literally going about over the earth seeking recruits for this battle.  In order to follow the path of consistency, it makes more sense to view this reference to Armagedon as symbolic imagery.

Armageddon is actually a word which John coined.  It literally means: “the mount of Medgiddo.”   The term Megiddo does appear in the Old Testament.  It refers to a narrow strip of plain just south of Nazareth in Palestine.   There is a mount overlooking this valley, which was also called the plain of Esdraelon.  On this little mound can be seen the ruins of the ancient city of Megiddo.   Many of the most decisive battles of Israel’s history were fought on the plain of Megiddo.  For example on that plain:

  • Deborah and Barak routed the forces of Sisera
  • Saul and Jonathan fought their last battles with the Philistines
  • Jehu staged his bloody revolution
  • Good king Josiah lost his life in a conflict with Pharaoh of Egypt. 

Thus through the years, this plain of Megiddo became in the minds of the Jews a symbol of conflict or decisive battle.  John no doubt used the word as a symbol of a place of decisive battle.  He was not thinking of a literal battle to be fought with the earthly weapons of warfare at a literal place in the land of Palestine. 

The true significance of this sign must be something like this:  When God comes to unload the full fury of his wrath upon the satanic kingdom, Satan will do what any nation would do in the course of a battle.  (World War II illustration of allies invading Europe, turning the tide of the war, and Hitler responding with last ditch effort that come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.) 

     Just as the enemy always does when he sees the end in sight, the devil will make that one all-out, last-ditch stand, hoping to turn the tide of the battle.  This is the picture which John paints in this interlude.  Satan and his cohorts were reeling under the might blows of these blasts from God’s bowls of wrath, but the devil sent out his emissaries to recruit every possible soldier for one last stand.  This is the battle of Armageddon.

            The question invariably arises-when will this battle take place?  As far as John and these first-century Christians were concerned, it took place when the mighty and blasphemous Roman Empire fell.  For them this empire was the epitome of satanic power and wickedness.  In this sense the battle of Armageddon was to them yet future; to us it is history.  However, we must not stop here if we are to understand the full significance of this apocalyptic picture.  This battle of Armageddon has been fought many times throughout history.  It happens when any satanic power is defeated by the forces of God. 

Also, it is not inappropriate to say that Armageddon happens to every individual in a personal sense.  Every man’s heart is an Armageddon, a battlefield in which the forces of evil and the forces of righteousness struggle against each other.  And always when the devil sees that he is about to lose the battle, he makes that last big fling, hoping to turn the tide.  Albert H. Baldinger rightly observes that “there is a sense in which every man’s life is a miniature Armageddon.” 


The Seventh Bowl (6:17-21) - This bowl was poured out “upon the air” (v.17) Since all living creatures breathe air, this was the worst of all.  “It is done” (v.17) means that the plagues were fully completed.  In verse 18, John used apocalyptic language to depict the great and terrible judgments of God.  The city was divided into three parts (v. 19).  “Three” suggested divine, complete judgment.  This judgment included all cities allied with Rome.  The saints felt that God had forgotten, but Babylon (or Rome) had not been forgotten.  Rome had caused nations to drink the wine of idolatry .  Now she was made to drink the wine of God’s boiling rage (fierceness, thumos) of God’s abiding wrath (orge) against evil.

In apocalyptic language, John continued to describe this judgment (vv. 20-21).  Islands and mountains were used as military strongholds.  Due to the earthquake, the islands disappeared and the mountains were leveled.  Thus, Rome’s military power was destroyed.  Also, hail stones weighing more than a hundred pounds battered the earth.  Obviously, these would destroy Rome and kill her people.  The total corruption of the Empire is seen in men’s blasphemy against God because of the hail.


In these bowl judgments, we must look beyond the moment to the ultimate meaning.  As the total judgment came upon Rome and her power, so is it to be for all in any age who set themselves against God and Christ.  This knowledge encouraged the suffering Christians in the 1st century and Christians of all ages who suffer in the name of Christ.