Let us begin with a prayer. I got this prayer from one of the prayers of Martin Luther in the book Prayer of the Reformers:
Dear Lord God, give me your grace that I may rightly understand your Word, and more than that, do it. O most blessed Lord Jesus Christ, see to it that my search after knowledge leads me to glorify you alone. If not, let me not know a single letter. Give only what I, a poor sinner, need to glorify you. Amen. – Martin Luther
This is our last sermon point for our sermon topic The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath. Last week, we heard about the first five bowls and today we will examine the last two. There are final events that will happen upon the second coming of Christ.
Now these two bowls again parallel the last two trumpets with again several details from the symbolic historical characters of the last cycle. The scene touches two familiar symbolic events which are the great final battle at Armageddon (sixth bowl) and finally the great earthquake following the destruction of this created order and the ushering of new creation (seven bowl). The beast, the false prophet, and the City of Man will receive judgment of the wrath of God and they will no longer harm God’s people. God’s consummated kingdom will finally come to pass.
This is the summary of our sermon this morning and they are broken into two parts: 1) The Mount of Gathering; 2) The Seven Bowl of God’s Wrath.
Let us hear the preaching of God’s Word.
The Mount of Gathering
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. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Verses 12-16)
There are several question we need to ask and in order understand this section of verses we just heard read before us and they are important interpretation question which had popular answers given today.
What is the Armageddon? What is symbolized by the Euphrates river? Who were the kings deceived by the beast and false prophets? What is the final battle of the Armageddon?
Some of us who watch the Hollywood movie Armageddon will know that Bruce will saving the world from destruction by planting a bomb beneath the coming big meteor is not what John meant about the event. Ironically, the nations won in this movie and it seems the end of the world got postponed by efforts of the human to survive. It is humanistic and pagan to is worldview.
But it seems popular Christian views today do not offer a biblical worldview as well. The popular “Christian” version of Armageddon is also mixed with speculations and fiction. Growing up with the comics by Alberto, a Roman priest who sought exile in the US and taught some fearsome predictions of the end times, I had understood that the battle of Armageddon is the literal gathering of millions of soldiers who will fight with the literal nation of Israel and this will signify the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Back then it was predicted as the EU, then the Muslim controlled country, possibly the great red army of Christ However, I learned that we should not read this book of Revelation simply with the newspaper we are holding in our hands rather we must look at them from the symbolism of the Old Testament prophecies.
The first interpretative key we can find from the text comes from verse 12 which refers to the drying of the great river Euphrates. Geographically, this river is located northeast of Israel where the Mesopotamian nations (Assyria, Babylon, Persia) on the other side are found. Isaiah prophesied that King Cyrus of Persia will defeat the Babylonian captors of Israel and eventually allows them to return from exile. The drying of the river signifies God intervention to providentially allow Persia to conquer Babylon in order to save Israel from exile:
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer….who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins’; who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers’; who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” – Isaiah 44:24; 26-28
Now, the significance of the Euphrates in reference of later mention of Armageddon is with the place Megiddo which is north of Israel where great battles occurred. One of which is the defeat of King Josiah recorded here in 2 Kings.
In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place. – 2 Kings 23:29-30
So the symbolism of Euphrates drying us means the providential act of God in saving his people while Megiddo points to the decisive battles of kings. Now in verse 13, the symbolic characters of the beast and false prophets were mentioned again as the demonic forces ruling over kings on earth. We know from the previous sermons that the beast means a demonized state. They are nations controlled by the demonic forces of the dragon. Any nation which sets itself independent from God are controlled by the prince of air, Satan. This is what John meant when he wrote: “And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.” The frogs coming out from the mouths of the demonic triumvirate (dragon, beast, and false prophets) means they are using their demonic powers to manipulate these nations into persecuting the church.
The persecution of the church continues until this day. We cannot imagine that since we are living in a “Christian” country, God’s people will not suffer tribulation here on side of earth. The blatant disregard of the the broader Evangelical church to the important truths of Scripture which in turn leads to the ridicule of smaller and less powerful and yet faithful churches is a form of persecution of the minority. The willful preferential treatment of the government to the economic needs of the country over and often against the spiritual needs of the people results to the suppression of our right to believe and practice these beliefs. Again, this world is no real friend to us weary pilgrims. We true citizenship is in heaven and it is only there we will finally be at home.
Which is why God will fight the battle for us and the decisive battle has been won us by the inaugurating work of Christ at the cross then finally in his return, he will rescue his people from total destruction. This is the final plot twist. When it seems God’s enemies has won over the church, God will intervene and deliver them in the end. This is why the battle of Armageddon is not a battle in literal place where a literal war between soldiers occur. No, Armageddon is the Mount of Gathering. The Hebrew word Armageddon comes from two words “Har” which means mountain or hills while “Megiddo” can mean assembly. When combined, it means a Mount of Gathering. And in Scripture, assembly usually means the gathering of God’s people. It is usually associated with Mount Zion where Christ gathers his people from the heavens and by his Spirit, he rules and reigns here on earth. The church of God is the assembly so that battle is between God’s people (his church, his assembly) and the enemies of God (dragon, beast, false prophet). It is an on-going spiritual battle occurring even today and the message is clear God intervenes and wins the battle for us. This is what Zechariah in his prophecy has predicted:
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:2-4
Let me cut this pericope and move to the next set but by way of reflection, we will go back to the rest of it and examine the words Christ has spoken in verse 15.
The Seven Bowl of God’s Wrath
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. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. (Verses 17-21)
How will God intervene to finally save his people from the battle against God’s enemies? Christ will return in glory, bring his judgement of his enemies, then deliver his people from destructive power of sin over this creation by giving me life everlasting to the new heavens and new earth.
So what happens at end of Christ’s second coming? What does it mean for us to hear “It is done!”? What kind of kingdom did Jesus built by his atoning work?
The coming of Christ in glory is the consummation of God’s judgment over sin and death. According to John, God from his throne declared: “It is done”. This completes the exaltation of Christ Paul has written in Philippians 2 where God will put everything under Christ’s feet. It is the completion of the pairing of Christ humiliation where he suffered and died and right before he gave us his spirit, John wrote Jesus saying: “It is finished (John 19:30).” This is the inauguration of God’s kingdom here on earth. Therefore, Jesus declared, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13).” This is again the Gospel of God. The person and work of Christ is the inauguration and consummation of God’s kingdom. And we will living the first and second coming of Christ.
Now while God ends this world by the great earthquake that will shaken the whole creation order into ruins, the kingdom of God will remain unshaken and continues beyond and into new creation.
See that you do not refuse him (Jesus the mediator of a new covenant) 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. 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.” 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. 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, for our God is a consuming fire. – Hebrews 12:25-29
We receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. So take heart Christian, while our worship of God seems weak and insignificant when seen through the eyes of this world, we know that God accepts our worship and it is the only thing that will remain after God consumes it with his wrath.
Now, how then should be live between the time of his first and second coming? The apostle Paul and even Jesus referred to this behavior using the idiom related to the “thief in the night”. What does it mean the second coming of Jesus is like a thief in the night? What do we as Christians need to do as we await his return?
Let me read from two passages pertaining to the event and the warning Jesus himself and even Paul, and Peter give:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man….Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. – Matthew 24:36-37;42; 44
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:10-12).
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
The coming of a thief obviously have negative connotation. Jesus himself spoke against the wicked deeds of a thief when he said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).” So the point here is not to associate Jesus as a thief who comes to kill and destroy for that is like calling good evil and evil good. Rather, we need to understand the idiom by what it denotes, the watchfulness and readiness it invokes to those prepare for a coming disaster.
The coming destruction of this world is a devastating event. Jesus, even Paul and Peter do not want to lower our expectations when it comes to the havoc it will bring. Rather, Scripture reminds us of the eschatological ethic we as Christian are called to follow. We live in expectation of his return. We spend the remain days of lives in love and service to other for the days are few. We train ourselves in godliness and live like those who are in light. Always be prepared and ready for Christ is coming soon! Let us continue to meet with one another and encourage one another in the faith.
ZCRC(Imus), God has won the decisive war against sin and death and he will defend us against his enemies and win every battle up until the end. As Christians, let us continue to live in godliness, always prepared and ready to serve and love another. Amen.