The Bowls and the Battle

Revelation 16:1-21

Cycles presented in Revelation are repetitive, viewing period between Christ’s advents from varying perspectives or camera angles; also a progression in what is revealed. See an intensifying in images portrayed by John – an escalation in degree of evil displayed by enemies of Christ and his church, a corresponding escalation in God’s wrath displayed in judgment. At the same time, there is a parallel escalation in God’s love displayed in his care of those bearing his seal. Here in our text the camera zooms in for a close-up of the approaching end.

Parallels with OT Exodus, plagues leading up to Pharaoh’s capitulation; deliverance of Hebrew children from Egypt and entry into Canaan parallel with deliverance of saints from kingdom of the world and entry into heavenly Canaan. Deliverance from Egypt “accomplished” by judgment on Pharaoh and Egyptians, along with humiliation of Pharaoh’s demonic associates. Saints’ deliverance from world will be accompanied by judgment on Satan’s kingdom and his allies. Unlike Exodus plagues which were sequential, these are cumulative as bowls are poured out in overlapping succession.

These plagues are antithesis of Saints’ experience described in Rev. 7:16-17; what the wicked endure is just the opposite of how the redeemed are blessed. Also consistent with the true character of God and of the lost; as horrific as these plagues will be, they are not unjust or undeserved. God, knowing end from beginning, is well aware what response by the lost will be to his hand of judgment even when it gets excruciatingly painful. Yet mercifully God provides incentive and opportunity for lost to repent, to call out to him for help.

Plagues of Exodus were literal, physical manifestations of God’s power and rule over his creation; these of Revelation 16 are literal manifestations of God’s power and wrath in judgment on his rebellious creatures. But,… important to remember they are described using imagery, apocalyptic language, probably fall far short of reality; the real thing will be far worse than what we can even imagine from John’s language.

The first five plagues: one by one God shows supremacy over all the lost trust in: self, Satan, power, nature, human wisdom; in so doing, what they experience is God’s just retribution for their evil. There is no escape, no part of the earth or class of individual is exempt from judgment. Form of their evil ways is two-fold: directed against God himself and against his people: worshiping replacement God & blaspheming the true God, making every attempt to destroy the church.

A. the first three v.1-4

focus of judgment is on the wicked, those sealed by God are spared (1-2) Followers of Satan discover “mark of the beast” is a target, not a shield. Singles them out for judgment by God, not protection by unholy trinity. Actual form judgment takes: perhaps painful and incurable diseases as bodies deteriorate at faster rate. Rather than living longer, able to accomplish more, opposite becomes true.

dragon’s domain (the sea) also judged (3) Place from which dragon brought up the beast, who along with dragon is worshiped (Rev. 13:4) – demonstration by God that dragon doesn’t have ultimate power over the sea, striking at confidence the wicked had placed in the beast.

God gives the wicked what they want (4) Having shown they were blood-thirsty by nature, seeking to destroy the saints, God gives them blood to drink. Not literally, but just as they sought lives of the saints, now will will satisfy thirst for violence on one another. Forms of persecution and destruction previously directed against church will be directed at each other with deadly consequences.

B. evaluation v.5-7

the holy angel, God’s express agent, declares the rightness of God’s action (5-6) It is God’s mercy that has delayed judgment; he could have justly brought consequences on the wicked much sooner but delayed, giving opportunity for repentance. God had promised his people in time of Isaiah that he would make their oppressors “eat their own flesh and …be drunk with their own blood” that all might know that he is the Lord. (Isa. 49:26) Here is ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy.

It is good to remember words of Jesus to Saul of Tarsus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4 Earlier in chapter had been described as “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”. Acts 9:1 Christ takes it “personally” when his people are persecuted; for him to then respond in judgment is well within his rights and what is right. Also a case of the punishment fitting the crime – “they got what they deserved” (6c).

saints gathered around the altar concur (7) Saints speak with one voice, declaring that from heaven’s perspective justice is finally being served. The cry of martyrs first heard in Rev. 6:9-10 is finally answered, the wicked are judged and the penalty demanded by God’s holiness is carried out. Once again, Abraham’s rhetorical question is answered with resounding “Yes”: “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

C. the next three v.8-14

a taste of hell’s fire; response: refusal to repent (8-9) While saints are protected from heat of sun, those with mark of beast experience heat of God’s judgment. Whether a catastrophic failure of ozone layer or a ratcheting up of suffering brought on by God’s heavy hand, result is the same: hardening of opposition against God. This, too, is the direct opposite of what God has promised to his people:

The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. (Psa. 121:5-6) They will not hunger or thirst, Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; (Isa. 49:10)

a taste of hell’s (spiritual) darkness; response: blasphemy added to refusal to repent (10-11) Now not only domain of beast but his throne is darkened as earthly agents fall from power. Cannot see way to progress or success, best laid plans have come crashing down, don’t know where to turn. Chaos, turmoil, political and social instability becomes the norm. Should turn to God for help but….time of crisis brings out true nature. When someone is at imminent risk of disaster, what comes from their mouth? Not a cry for help to God; rather curse the cause of the danger who they know to be God.

a taste of hell’s freedom from restraint; response: gleeful preparation for battle (12-14) It’s a setup: God drops the force field protecting his people which encourages the wicked to seize the opportunity and shift into overdrive to destroy the church. Little do they know that the battle will be their destruction, not that of their target. They are further incited by promises and deceptions of unholy trinity (13), convinced by fraudulent signs that those following the dragon are on winning side (14).

D. encouragement v.15

Blessed are those not “caught with their pants down” at the Lord’s return.” College Press Don’t lose heart, don’t lose hope; as bleak as it may look the Lamb wins. He will return suddenly, must not be taken in by dragon’s deceptions, by seductions of the world, or overwhelmed by opposition; instead must remain faithful to Lord Jesus. (Third of 7 blessed’s in Revelation)

E. final bowl battle v.16-21

the place – Har Magedon/Mount Zion/Mount of Gathering (16) just as Euphrates not referring to river in Middle East, so Mount of Gathering not referring to literal mountain there either. Instead it is “camp of the saints”, “beloved city”, (Rev. 20:9) the place where the church gathers that battle will take place. (M. G. Kine, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” JETS 39 (1996), 207-22.)

the conflict – spiritual and physical, extremely one-sided; kings of the earth and the whole world along with their forces, physical and demonic, on one side, a single warrior on the other attended by his army. (Rev. 19:11-21) All God’s enemies alive and active aligned against him and his kingdom; all will be forever defeated in this battle: “It is done.” (17)

the outcome – sinful mankind’s blasphemous opposition to the bitter end. God himself will be present on earth (18) in a way unlike ever before: final judgment this time. The city of man, kingdom of Satan, Babylon, falls in utter ruin (19) as God’s furious wrath is directed against sinful mankind and forces of evil. Just like turmoil in natural world at Calvary (darkness, earthquake), so very earth shakes as Christ treads the winepress of God’s wrath. In this final installment of earthly judgment, rather than repent and turn to God, sinful mankind continues to blaspheme, to curse God because of his judgment.

So what can we anticipate? That as Christ’s kingdom advances around the world, Satan’s kingdom will increase its opposition against it. Battle will become more fierce: more intense seduction and deception, greater political power directed against the church. Suffering does not soften hearts and minds of the lost, does not reduce their hatred of God. Increases it, causes them to curse the one they know is responsible for their suffering. Rebelliously they refuse to repent, to worship the true God; this is wilful, not ignorant rebellion.

Satan will not give up without a fight, neither will his allies. May be temporary lulls, but general trend will be that as time passes, will become more difficult to be a faithful Christian. Especially true as end approaches, as evil increases, and God’s righteous judgments against evildoers incites them to greater rebellion.

We can also be certain that Christ will guard his church, sustaining her and guarding her from harm. We may experience certain types of hardship, even death; but our souls once entrusted to the Lord of the Church are absolutely secure in his keeping and loving care. We are completely safe from God’s wrath, not because of any merit of our own, but because the Lamb endured the Father’s wrath in our place. We will also be given all the resources we need to remain faithful in the face of opposition by Satan’s kingdom, regardless of how intense it may get.

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