Let us begin with a prayer of Illumination from the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli:
Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, whose Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, open and illuminate my mind, that I may truly understand your Word and that my life may be conformed to what I have rightly understood, that in all my ways I may be pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. – Ulrich Zwingli
So last week we heard how John begins a new vision cycle of seven angels with seven plagues (Revelation 15:1-4). We learned that God will bring everything in creation to and end and as God’s people, we praise and worship him in the midst of sick and dying world.
Moving forward from this comes two parts of the second sermon point: 1) God’s Wrath coming out from God’s Throne. We will expound on this from verses 5 to 8 of chapter 15. Then 2) The First Five Bowls of God’s Wrath and this will come out from Chapter 16, verses 1 to 11.
In sum, the first part teaches us about God’s judgments over against his enemies, and they are final and complete. In the end, God avenges his people. The prayers of the martyred are answered by God’s justice. It is a demonstration of this reality because we often forget it whenever we encounter difficult trials here on earth. Then on the second part, Scripture details for us the target and scope of God’s judgment. They are all of the followers of the beast and false prophets on earth. The punishment of God for those who deny him and prey on God’s people begins here on earth prior to the second coming of Christ. And despite of the turmoil and pain, they will refuse to repent and die in their sins. This exhorts us to examine our profession and faith. It challenges us to persevere in the end.
God’s Wrath Coming Out from God’s Throne
After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 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, 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. (verses 5-8)
There are several imagery we need follow and understand from these texts and one of which is the vision of the “tent of witness” in heaven (verse 5). Those of us who are familiar with the Old Testament symbols this is an obvious allusion to the temple in the wilderness (Exodus 33:7-10). But this particular term finds is parallel in Acts 7:44 where it reads, “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.” This is part of Stephen’s speech prior to his death and the inspired Scripture of God makes a correlation between type and anti-type. Clearly, the type with which, according to Stephen, the pattern was copied in the tent in meeting God showed Moses from the heavens. The temple of God is the throne where the Lamb sits and he is clearly the anti-type. This again makes explicit reference to the typological interpretation of Scripture.
So the seven bowls with the seven plagues comes out from God. It is his wrath poured over his enemies. We know that punishment comes from God himself because we know from the beginning of previous cycles, the throne is surrounded by celestial beings, and the smoke symbolizes the terror of God’s judgment (verses 6-8). Again, this teaches us that God’s glory does not only magnify his grace and mercy, but also his wrath and justice. It demonstrates his holiness.
We often think that the idiom: “Crime does not pay” is not true. We sometimes imagine those who are wicked and rebellious sinners get often gets away with everything and they are living trouble free lives but this in reality is not true. Actually, Satan and his lies sound promising but they do not deliver. Moreover, you do not get from him what you pay for. He deceives his followers into thinking that their best lives comes from worldly pleasures, wealth, and earthly comforts but in reality, he cannot even protect them from the coming punishment from God’s wrath.
These words from John soberly reminds us of the final end of the wicked. And godly wisdom encourages us to learn from their folly and continue to walk the godly path. The preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote, “A sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (Eccle 8:12-13) .”
So instead of following the folly of the wicked, let us listen to the wisdom of the godly, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).” So as we persevere until the end, let us walk, stand, and sit with godly, in fellowship with God’s people.
I know this economic and health crisis happening in our midst may bring about distress and anxiety in our lives and often we are prone to listen to the world mindset of the wicked. So encourage everyone specially during Prayer meetings, and group Bible study, Sunday school, Inquirer’s and MINTS classes to seek godly spiritual advise from your fellow members at ZCRC(Imus) and with your office-bearers as God’s under shepherds. Let us continue to study God’s Word, to delight in it, and carry each other’s burden as a expression of God’s loving presence while we fellowship with one another. Let us pray for one another and encourage one another with these words.
The First Five Bowls of God’s Wrath
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.
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.
The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 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!”
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 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.
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 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds (verses 1-11)
The seven plagues from the seven bowls alludes to the ten plagues in Exodus. The parallel is not exact and comprehensive. Even the arrangement does not match. So this means while it sound like the plagues of the OT, they were used as a pattern to symbolize the disaster God decided to bring over the followers of the beast.
Now, the point of comparison intends to highlight the magnitude of this apocalyptic events. The damage is total and effects are final. Nothing follows after these events. They signal the second coming of Christ. God finally delivers his people from sin, misery, and death and he does so as soon as he places his judgment over those who rebel and sin against him.
So let us go through one by one the first five plagues. I will use Dr. G.K. Beale’s book for it, and end later with some concluding reflections:
- A bowl is poured on the earth. Malignant sores come on those who have the mark of the beast and have worshiped his image.
- Sixth Exodus plague (Exod. 9:8ff.)
- A bowl is poured on the seas. This becomes blood, and every living thing in it dies.
- First Exodus plague (Exod. 7:17ff.).
- A bowl is poured on rivers and fountains, and they become blood.
- First Exodus plague (Exod. 7:17ff.)
- A bowl is poured on the sun, which scorches men with fire.
- Seventh Exodus plague (Exod. 9:22ff.)
- A bowl is poured on the throne of the beast. His kingdom is darkened and men are in anguish.
- Ninth Exodus plague (Exod. 10:21ff.)
Now there are several observations worth mentioning here. First, the plagues in the seven bowls matches the plagues in the seven judgment. I think this reasonably justify our position of recapitulation. We do not read these as events happening in chronological sequence. Instead, we need to see them as cycles focusing of specific events leading up to the second coming Christ. Second, the seven bowls are poured over to a specific group of recipients and they are “who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image”. These are the follows of the Dragon, the beast, and the false prophets. They mock God and persecute God’s people. Coming right before everything ends, God will punish them for their sin and iniquities. Third, kinds of plagues the bowls bring affects the physical/psychological, economical, and religious lives of these wicked men. Forth, the effect these plagues bring are total and final. They indeed ended everything important for these rebellious people. There is no escape. And this is but a foretaste the punish each of the will receive when eternal death is finally applied to all of them. Fifth, the angel in the third bowl praises God for his justice over creation. This fits well with the exhortation to worship God as God’s people with thankgiving and praise in the midst to tribulation.
Finally, despite all of these punishment the followers of the beast refuse to repent. Like Pharaoh in the Egyptian plague, these unregenerate people continues to harden their heart before God.
Pastoring a church in the midst of this pandemic is by the far the most difficult challenge I ever faced in my 11 year ministry. The quarantine, government restrictions, the concern for the health and well-being of everyone, the anxiety these brings to some, the strong opinion of others, the disruption it brings over public worship, the restriction it impose to physically shepherd the church, the resulting lack of love of the strong and growing coldness of the weak are like what Paul admits in 2 Corinthians 11:28, “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
I know God works them out for all our good. I realized that I need to learn to be more content in any and every situation. I have understood that in the midst of these trying time, while the unregenerate continue to harden their hearts before God, the elect regenerate believers will humbly submit to God because the Holy Spirit brings about the fruit of repentance in their lives. That instead of being proud, we admit our faults and weaknesses, that instead of giving up, we endure until the end. Like what David said in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
So Christian, let’s examine our hearts and make our election and calling sure (2 Peter 1:10). And let us exhort one another to bring about the fruit of godliness in our lives even while we suffer through this ordeal. Let us remember the words from Scripture that Peter wrote,
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7).”
ZCRC(Imus), let us continue to love one and another, care for one another, comfort and help one another. May God bring about the fruits of humility and service in our midst. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit continue to sanctify is with God’s Word. And may God’s people continue to endure in the end. Amen.