Revelation Part 29 – The 7 Bowls of Wrath


Revelation Part 29

The 7 Last Plagues

Rev. 15:5-16:21 

Proverbs 19:3


In 2 recent sermons, we’ve been taken to Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich man. In the latter portion of that parable, we saw the Rich man in Hell, pleading that someone go back from the dead – namely Lazarus – to warn his 5 brothers not to live and sin as he did, so as to avoid the same fate.

It’s then we encounter Abraham’s response: Luke 16:29–31 “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ The Rich man shot back, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

As though our text today were penned as a further explanation of the mysterious nature and the depths of the twistedness & hardness of the fallen human heart, in it, we’ll be brought face to face with this phenomenon once again in startling clarity – along with a picture of God’s continued faithfulness, goodness and goodwill toward His enemies. And both are jaw dropping.

It might be useful to go back and recall just a few key facts from earlier in our study for context and clarity’s sake.

You will remember that Ch. 5 introduced us to a scroll sealed with 7 seven seals – which no one in Heaven or earth was able to open until Jesus stepped forward to do it. He alone is worthy.

That scroll, as Don Carson put it: “contains all of God’s purposes for blessing and judgment…[it] contains God’s purposes for redemption and condemnation…the fullness of all that God wants to do in blessing and judgment. This is the whole plan”

The opening of the 7 seals gives us the big picture.

Then, in Ch. 8 once the 7th seal is opened we are introduced to 7 angels with 7 trumpets. We saw how trumpets were used in ancient days as a means of communicating and sounding warnings like in Israel’s history.  And how God appointed them for Israel. They were blown to summon troops to war, to warn about approaching enemies, announce feasts and special events etc. They announce.

So as each of the trumpets are blown, we get increased detail about the judgments of God on this fallen earth and those who reject the Lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s goodness and patience are highlighted in the way He warns and warns and warns. He goes out of His way to prepare humanity and to call us to repentance from our sin and faith in Jesus. And He places the reality of the coming judgments front and center in graphic and even shocking detail.

Which brings us to our text today where having seen the plan in the opening of the seals, and being warned of what is coming – and in some sense has already begun – by the trumpets. We now see the final judgment actually being poured out or accomplished on the earth – figured by 7 golden bowls.

God reveals, God expands and warns, and finally God acts. He is never given to knee-jerk actions.

The scene itself doesn’t need a lot of explanation – but let’s look at it in the text and make some observations along the way. And then I have 4 considerations for us to entertain at the end.

Rev. 15:5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened,

John’s vision here begins in Heaven and recalls the same sanctuary or temple Moses was shown in Ex. 25. The REAL temple which was the pattern for Moses’ Tabernacle.

Rev. 15:6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.

7 angels make their appearance, in pure bright linen – no doubt indicating the purity of their mission – and golden sashes indicating they have royal authority to execute their mission. They are God’s agents in what is about to unfold.

Rev. 15:7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever,

This would have been one of the 6-winged seraphim we saw in Ch. 4 – and the bowls may be representative of the ones we saw in Ch. 5 which contain the prayers of the saints. Hence something of God’s final judgment on sin is connected to our prayers. Perhaps Jesus’ instruction to us to be praying “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

A fulfillment of what Paul notes in 2 Thess. 1:6–10 “indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

15:8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

This is nothing less than a picture of how dramatic and all consuming it is when God makes Himself known in greater ways than we are used to. As he reveals Himself, everything else must come to a full stop. It is reminiscent of the day when they dedicated Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8 – when even the consecrated Priests could not stand up to minister when the glory of God filled the place.

Remember back in the 1st chapters when John encounters a fuller vison of the risen Christ? It is overwhelming, shattering. And now God is breaking out in revealing His holy judgment upon sin and His glory in rewarding the saints and even in Heaven – nobody moves a muscle. Not even the highest angels. Even the ordinary affairs of Heaven come to a screeching halt in the face of the cosmic spectacle.

Rev. 16:1–2 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

Actual judgment has begun. Whether it is God Himself who gives the order here, or some angelic being, the command is to pour out the 7 bowls. In fact, that only one command is given may indicate these are not supposed to be thought of as being poured out in succession, but that each of the 7 angels go out at the very same time, each pouring out his unique plague.

The 1st bowl is poured out with terrible results, specifically on those who bear the mark of the Beast – those marked out as his by virtue of taking on the World’s mindset in opposition to serving Christ: Material wellbeing; personal autonomy; cultural morality and invented religion or spirituality.

The question of course is whether or not this is literal or figurative. Sorting out what is literal or symbolic throughout this book has been a never ending task. But I will have to say that given the parallels between these 7 plagues and the last 7 plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7-12 – which were literal, it seems most in keeping with the text to see them as literal here too.

This is some sort of physical plague which manifests itself in harmful and painful sores breaking out on a large part of humanity.

The word “harmful” may indicate not just painful sores, but those which do severe and lasting damage.

Rev. 16:3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

Whether this is meant to indicate the oceans of the world just the Mediterranean Sea or sea as referring to humanity is unclear, but that it is an ecological disaster of epic proportion is not.

The blood of a corpse is clotted, putrid and would create worldwide panic, famine and disease.

Rev. 16:4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.

The disaster spreads so that the water sources of all the earth are affected.

Rev. 16:5–7 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”

And as though anticipating how the reader might recoil in shock and disgust at such a gruesome sight, the text records how the angel in charge of the waters reminds himself and us that however extreme this seems – God’s actions here are in keeping with His holiness and justice. He cannot over punish any more than He can under punish and remain just and holy. However staggering the realities may be, they are fitting, right, proper.

Rev. 16:8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.

A cosmic disaster follows the 1st 3, one in which the sun itself is employed to make people suffer.

Rev. 16:10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish

The above are followed by the terror of darkness.

Rev. 16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east.

All of this apparently gives way to global war as the east begins to attack the west. Demonically inspired to target the Believers as the source of their woes (14).

Rev. 16:17-18 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.

All of this culminates in an earthquake unparalleled in human history and bringing civilized life on the planet to abject and final destruction. Accompanying this is a targeting of peoples with 100lb hailstones.

Well now, what are we supposed to do with all of this?

  1. We are to realize that God WILL indeed finish His work and judgments upon human sin – and that His wrath is far more terrifying than anything we can humanly imagine. We dare not temper God’s wrath.
  2. Given the hardness of the human heart – what a miracle it is that ANYONE is saved. If it were not for the sovereign working of God to overcome that hardness in us – NOTHING else would be sufficient to turn us around.

Look at the responses of those undergoing these plagues as it is emphasized for us in 3 places.

Rev. 16:9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10b People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

21 and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

This is the true condition of fallen man – no matter how much some want to whitewash it and claim some island of righteousness in us.

Prov. 19:3 When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.

Christian, marvel at your salvation this morning. What it took for the Triune God to bring you to Himself.

Nothing less than the overcoming love of the Father toward His enemies to want you for His own.

Nothing less than the sacrificial blood of the sinless Son of God to be shed in place of yours, and His righteousness to be placed on your account.

Nothing less than the same power it took for the Spirit to brood over the face of the deep in the first creation, to bring forth human life, and to raise Jesus from the dead – to bring forth the eternal life that you now possess – to raise you from your being dead in your trespasses and sins, RE-created.

Unbeliever – understand what a miraculous salvation is being held out to you today in this Gospel.

He calls to you once more today, as He has in every pain, every disappointment, every hardship and every blessing you have ever experienced.

He calls to you yet again though you’ve heard such sermons over and over and over.

He calls to you even now as you sit firm in your self-satisfaction and unbelief and offers you cleansing from all your sin; forgiveness for all your offenses against Him; eternal life and the righteousness of Christ that you may be with Him forever; and deliverance from all that this fallen world has inflicted upon you.

And will you instead rage against Him for the sorrows that find their root in our own shared sinfulness?

  1. Look at the amazing grace of God as He continues to exert all manner of pressures upon mankind to bring us to an end of ourselves and turn to Him – right up to the very last moment.

Those statements that those suffering the plagues would not repent, show that they might – even then!

  1. What will it take for you to finally bend the knee to Christ and stop playing at religion, self-justification and clinging to the sin you love so much – so that Jesus might have His proper place over your person and life?

What sin is so precious to you that you would rather suffer the loss of all for eternity, to have it for the fleeting moments of this life?

Whose opinion of you is so important that to humble yourself before the Lord of Glory seems too much to ask?

What great thing is it you think you need to accomplish, what experience do you think you need to have BEFORE you give Christ His proper place in your heart?

“What more can He say, than to you He has said?”

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