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The Full Fury of God's Wrath (e)

Revelation 15-16

James R. Davis

A theme running through the entire book of Revelation is the judgment of God upon the sins of mankind. Jesus is seen walking among the seven churches of Asia. He reveals each church's condition and condemns or commends each appropriately. (Revelation 2-3) John portrays God's partial judgment that is to come upon the earth through the sounding of the trumpets as a result of earth's sins. (Revelation 8-12) The judgement of the earth is portrayed as reapers going out to gather the inhabitants of the earth as grapes and throwing them into the winepress of God's wrath. (Revelation 14:14-20) In chapter 15 &16 John reveals the full fury of God's wrath against the sins of Rome.

Another theme running through the entire book of Revelation is the assurance of victory for the saints living in the troublesome times of Roman persecution. We have consistently seen the martyred saints standing before the throne of God in heaven after their martyrdom. They are promised white stones with their names written on them, which was a sign of victory. They are encouraged to be faithful through death to receive the blessings of God. As chapter 15 opens, John sees what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire. Summers suggest that it may have been like the sun glistening off of smooth water at sunset. Chapters 12 & 13 portrayed the devil standing upon the seashore while a beast was coming out of the sea to bring havoc against God's people. But here in chapter 15 the sea is so calm that it reflects the sun's rays like a mirror. It is definitely a tranquil and peaceful scene as compared to the previous scenes.

Upon this sea of glass were standing those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They have passed through martyrdom and stand in the presence of God with heavenly harps. They are singing a song that only the redeemed could sing. It was the song of Moses and the Lamb.
 
 

"Great and Marvelous are your deeds Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Revelations 15:3-4)

The scene is reminiscent of the song of Moses and Miriam sung by the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea by the hand of God's deliverance. (Exodus 15:1-18)

John sees seven angels with seven golden bowls of wrath. The bowls of wrath are about to be poured out upon the earth. The seven bowls of wrath represent God's complete judgment against Rome. Judgment, thus far upon the enemies of the saints has only been partial for God was endeavoring to bring them to repentance. Now the longsuffering of God is completed and earth will fill the full fury of God's wrath. Earth will experience the complete and full wrath of God.

The Purity of God's Judgment

It has been suggested that the scene represents the purity of God's wrath. The angels are dressed in clean shining linen and are wearing golden sashes around their chests. The bowls containing God's wrath are pure gold. The glory of God's presence is portrayed as the temple is filled with smoke.

The marvelous truth about God's judgment is that it is executed in holiness and righteousness. It isn't a vindictive judgment. "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-- an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:29-31) Justice is not vindictive.

I remember a special program that revealed what working as a guard on death row in a prison in Georgia was like. There was an interview with the warden of the prison. He was asked if there was any satisfaction on the part of the prison staff in putting a man to death. The warden responded by saying that he had best not find any of those who endeavored to fulfill the law's demand for justice finding any satisfaction in putting the prisoners to death. The program revealed how that a relationship was usually developed between many of the guards and the death row inmates. There was no vindictiveness, they were only doing what was required by law. Christ judgment will be in justice, holiness and righteousness. It is not vindictive. Christ's work on earth now through the gospel is proof of this fact. He is endeavoring to save us. In fact, Christ has met the laws demand for justice for each person. When his judgment comes, every effort possible will have already been made to save everyone. It is only then that justice can be dealt through mercy.

"You are just in these judgments,
you who are and who were, the Holy One,
because you have so judged;
for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve."

And I heard the altar respond:

"Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments."(16:5-7)

Today some ask, "If God is a good God, how can he punish anyone?" We know from history and personal experience that evil left unchecked destroys everything in its path. The destructive path that evil itself paves for one's life, as one gives oneself to it, is reason enough for an all holy God to come in judgment against it. What kind of God would God be if he left evil unchecked and undisciplined. But what would the world be like, if one could wipe out evil once and for all. If tomorrow you woke up and all evil had disappeared overnight, what kind of world would this world be. This is God's ultimate objective through the creation.

Psalms 96:10-13
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns." The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

The judgment of God is not without warning. John has revealed God's partial disciplinary judgment upon the earth in an effort to bring the earth, Rome in particular, to repentance. There has been ample warning and encouragement to repent. God has sought to warn the faithful and unfaithful. But Rome has refused. She has become hardened in sin. Now she will experience the full fury of God's wrath.

Isaiah 51:5-6
My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

The Seven Bowls of God's Wrath

The seven bowls of wrath are reminiscent of the ten plagues brought upon Egypt as Israel was about to be delivered. The first bowl of wrath indicates that this judgment was directed upon those who had the mark of the beast and worshipped his image. The judgment is spoken of in figurative language. These are not literal descriptions of the judgment of God. They are symbolic representations describing God's judgment. But God's judgments are nonetheless real.

The number seven represents that God's complete and full wrath has now come. God's judgment is portrayed as quick as each successive judgment comes. There are no interludes between each judgment. There is no time given between each judgment for repentance. That time has past. The angels in heaven are crying out in praise, for it is time for justice.

In this judgment, there is a warning for the faithful Christians. "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." (16:15) In the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, the Israelites were to have their clothes girded about them as they ate the Passover Lamb. So it is here, as God comes as a thief in judgment, Christians must remain alert.

The first bowl of wrath is poured upon mankind as ugly painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast. (16:2). The second is poured upon the sea and it turns into blood like that of a dead man. The third bowl of wrath is poured out upon the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. The fourth angel poured God's wrath upon the sun and the sun was given power to scorch the earth with intense heat.

God's judgment is comprehensive. The agony was so great that the people of the earth began to curse God. It is much like Job's wife telling him to curse God and die. They were probably crying out saying, "If God is a good God, why are we suffering evil." Their evil hearts turned bitter and they refused to repent and glorify God. (16:8-9) The angels in heaven were spontaneously praising God, while the inhabitants of the earth were cursing God. The saint's prayers were being answered. They had cried out, as the Lamb opened the sixth seal, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood." (6:10) Their prayers are answered, but they were not answered until earth was given ample time to repent.

With the fifth bowl of wrath, God's judgment begins upon the throne of Rome itself. The kingdom was plunged into darkness. The darkness probably represents how they were plunged unrestrained into the darkness of evil. This darkness was so awful that men gnawed their tongues in agony and their bitter hearts continued to curse God because of their pains and sores. They refused to repent of what they had done. They were simply reaping what they had sown, but rather than accept the responsibility of their own actions, they chose to curse and blame God.

Rome's greatest threat from foreign armies was from the Parthians east of the Euphrates River. As the sixth bowl of wrath is poured out upon the Roman Empire, the Euphrates River is dried up. It is much like God backing up the Jordan River for Israel's conquering armies to cross into the land of Canaan. Jeremiah points out that the drying up of the waters was a prelude to Babylon the Great's destruction in the Old Testament. (Jeremiah 1:38) Then evil spirits go out into all the regions to deceive the world and gather the kings of the whole world for the great battle on the day of God Almighty. They are gathered together to destroy the throne of the monster. They are gathered for the great battle of Armageddon.

Notice that the frogs that represent the evil spirits come from the mouth of the dragon and from the mouth of the monster. Earlier this same dragon was portrayed as making war against all those who obeyed God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (12:17) The dragon and the beast are relentlessly bringing havoc upon the whole creation. They seek not only the destruction of God's children, but also those who do their bidding. The evil is so deceitful that it succeeds in persuading its on followers to curse and blame God for their torment. Total destruction and annihilation of all that God holds dear is evils ultimate goal. Yet, God's entire creation is near and dear to him for He died for all.

"These allies gather their forces on the battlefield called Armageddon. This was a famous Hebrew battlefield. Here Gideon and his three hundred defeated the Midianites. Here King Saul was defeated by the Philistines. Here Barak and Deborah overthrew the hosts of the Canaanite king, Jabin. Here Ahaziah died of Jehu's arrows. And here Pharaoh-Necho overthrew Josiah, The place was burned into the minds of the Jewish people, and the mourning for Josiah in the valley of Medgiddo was long afterward quoted as a typical example of national grief. Thus Megiddo fitly symbolized the worldwide distress of righteousness and evil engaged in deadly combat. This is not an actual material sword and spear battle. Such a thing would be at cross purposes with all the teachings of the New Testament, the ideals which Jesus held, his death on the cross, and all of God's purposes of grace. Jesus' way was never the way of the sword. His sword is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. If one expects this to be a literal, material battle, he must expect the army to be headed by a committee of three frogs. Both figures are symbolical; neither is literal. There is no reason for making one literal and the other symbolical. The Armageddon in the book of Revelation has no location on the maps of the world; it is logical, not spatial. The battle is not one in which material, physical armaments will decide the issue; the battle is between righteousness and evil, and righteousness is the certain victor." (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1951. Pages 189-190.)
The battle is so significant in bringing victory that the seventh plague portrays that it is the final battle for Rome. As the seventh bowl of wrath is poured into the air, there are lightnings, peals of thunder and a voice from the temple saying, "It is done!" Then there is an earthquake so terrible that there has never been one like it upon earth before. Babylon, which signifies Rome, is split into three parts. The islands fled away and the mountains disappear. This signifies the complete destruction of the worldly order of things. Rome is given the full cup of God's wrath. Earlier God's judgment on earth had been portrayed as angels gathering the grapes ripe for harvest and casting them into the winepress of God's wrath. The blood rose to the horses' bridles and flowed for 180 miles. Now Rome is given a cup from God's winepress of wrath to drink. As hundred pound hailstones were hurled to the earth, men continued to curse God in their bitterness.

Conclusion:

John sees God's righteous holy judgment as swift, comprehensive and sure.

Rome is drinking from the full cup of her own iniquities.
 
 
 

 

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