Revelation 16: The Curtain Rises on the Last Act

Revelation 16:1-2

The image above is “The destruction of Babylon” from Pierre Mortier’s Bible, ca. 1700. Phillip Medhurst Collection Creative Commons 3.0 license (no changes made).

We observed in studying Rev. 15, that it provided us an index to chapters 16-19. Chapter 15 is also an interpretive interlude to chapter 16. The first section of the chapter (vs. 2-4) deals with the victors over the beast who have been caught up to be with the Lord. The second section (vs. 5-8) deals with the seven angels bearing the bowls of judgment. In my view of the structure of Revelation, 15:2-4 describes the effect of the Second Coming—the redeemed are “caught-up” just before the wrath of God is visited upon all who opposed His plan and persecuted His people.

Second Coming and Bowls Poured Out

So, the “rapture” is a part of the Second Coming. The Lord descends and catches up the living church and raises the dead ones. They in turn participate in the events that follow. There is no “secret rapture,” but it takes place before the eyes of the watching world. Matthew 27 records an incident that is often overlooked—

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by Old Testament saints being raised also. They went into the city and witnessed of Jesus as Messiah whom God had raised from the dead. In the end, when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ will be raised and caught up with the living to participate in the events of the Second Coming. Everyone will see this resurrection of saints as they did in Matthew 27. 

The bowl judgments are all carried out one after the other. Chapters 17-18 describe the destruction of Babylon. “The great harlot, Babylon, is Satan’s anti-Christian seduction, which [strives] to steal the hearts and pervert the morals of believers. At that time the harlot revealed herself as the city of Rome. So, when Satan falls, the beasts and the harlot also fall. They rise together; they go down together” (see, Hendriksen, p. 20, below).

What is the message to the Church of the first century and all centuries that follow?

God’s undiluted wrath will fall in the end on those who persecute His church and reject His Word.

People invariably say that surely people will repent when Christ appears. However, many remain unchanged in their refusal to submit to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” Lewis insists that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.” (see Alcorn, below.) paradise-lost-satan-in-council-drawing-by-gustave-dore-gustave-dore

In the end, God’s enemies are hardened in their sin, not sorry for it. Their rebellion continues forever. (see Witmer, p. 38 blow.) John Milton in Paradise Lost agrees when he puts words into Satan’s mouth—”Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven.” 

Image to the right, “Satan in Council,” drawing by for Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore colorized by Travis Perry on Nov 21, 2019

“In Revelation, God’s judgments do not undermine his holiness. Rather, they demonstrate it.” (see Witmer, p. 38, below.)

I. Wrath and judgment both are aspects of the God who reveals Himself to us in Revelation.

vs. 1 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.” [ESV]

This verse (16:1)  links the broad, generalized description in chapter 15:5-8. The background for this vision seems to be Isaiah 66:5-6—

5 Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word:
“Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for my name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame.
6 “The sound of an uproar from the city!
A sound from the temple!
The sound of the Lord,
rendering recompense to his enemies!

The word for ‘temple’ is naos in Greek, the inner sanctuary of the temple. As we have seen before, God’s throne room is in fact a circular sanctuary—the center of reality, both of things “visible and invisible.” John is relating to us that the severe judgments which are to follow fall on the earth at the express decree of God himself. They are neither arbitrary nor indiscriminate. However, they are intense! Hebrews 12 warns—

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. [ESV; emphasis mine)

Bowl Angels

The Giving of the Seven Bowls of Wrath / The First Six Plagues,
Revelation 16:1-16. Matthias Gerung, ca. 1531
public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Note that the seven angels are sent forth as a group. The trumpets were blown one after the other over a period of time. The 7 bowls will be poured out in rapid succession one after another until they are all emptied. Note also, the trumpets affected 1/3 of the earth. The bowls affect 100% of the earth.

Comparison between trumpets and bowls

The word for “wrath” in Greek is thymos—”anger which flares out at someone.” (English derivative is thermo as in “thermo-neuclear.”) In human beings, anger is considered a passion. Passions often are capricious. In God emotions are real emotions, but they are not passions. They are always holy, just, and right in their expressions. God’s wrath is an expression of his holy hatred of sin. 

A person questioned me recently about my years in a previous denomination. I replied that I was a Presbyterian. He probed further—PCUSA or PCA? I replied that I was in the PCA. His comment next was telling. “Oh, hell-fire and brimstone, I imagine.”

Let me say this, judgment is not God’s ordinary way of dealing with people. Isaiah 28:21—For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. [KJV; emphasis mine]

Judgment is not God’s usual way of dealing with people. Psalm 145 states—8 The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. 9 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. [KJV; emphasis mine]

God’s default work is grace, mercy, and forgiveness. However, when those called by His name who apostatize, rather than being on His people’s side, he will be on their enemy’s side. “God was to be on the side of the enemies of his people, who were to suffer as the Philistines had suffered in the olden time. This punishment of His own people by the sword of foreigners was strange work on God’s part — a strange act. But it was their strange conduct which caused God’s strange action. They had become as it were, Philistines.” (see Pulpit Commentary, below.)

II. The Lord closes the offer of salvation and Christ returns to pour out His righteous judgment on the unbelieving world. 

Isaiah 55:6-7 record the offer of salvation and the warning that the offer has a use-by date —

6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; Seek-the-Lord-300x300
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. [ESV; emphasis mine.]

With the first bowl is poured out, the offer of salvation has ended.

bowl poured outvs. 2 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.

There does not seem, at first glance, to be a connection between the 1st trumpet and the 1st bowl. However, note that they both affect the land (gēs = “earth” or “land”). “Sore” (helkos in Greek) is translated “sore,” “wound,” “abscess,” or “ulcer” elsewhere in Greek literature. In Luke 16:20-21, Lazarus is said to have sores (helkoi)—” 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 

Two further adjectives are added in Rev. 16 to describe the “sores”—(1) kakos—”bad” (2) ponēros—”evil.”
The idea is that the sores are “malignant” ones. They are not benign. The KJV says that they are “noisome”— they stink. Note that the sores only come on the worshipers of the beast. The miracle-working beast is not
able to heal his followers.

Let us not put off committing our lives to Christ if we haven’t! He is near at present to save all who call upon Him!

Notes
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation) 

Alcorn, R. (2014). Banished from Humanity: C.S. Lewis and the Doctrine of Hell. Accessed 19 January 2021 from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/banished-from-humanity

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

KJV. (1611). Accessed 19 January from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Pulpit Commentary. (1890). Isaiah. Accessed 18 January 2021 from https://biblehub.com/isaiah/28-21.htm

WikiMedia Commons for Images

Whitmer, S. (2015). Revelation (Knowing the Bible) Crossway. Kindle Edition.

© 2021 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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