RPM, Volume 18, Number 26, June 19 to June 25, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

Bowls of Judgment
Revelation 15:1—16:5

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

I saw in Heaven another great and marvelous sign. Seven angels with the seven last plagues. Last because with them God's wrath is completed. I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given to them by God and sang the song of Moses, the servant of God and the song of 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. After this I looked and in Heaven the temple, that is the tabernacle of testimony, was opened. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean shinning linen and wore golden sashes around their chest. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels, seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angles were completed.

We will pause there and pick up chapter 16 in a few minutes. Let's pray together.

Our Father in Heaven, again we bow in Your presence. Again we acknowledge that this is Your word given by inspiration of God and profitable for doctrine and for proof and for correction and instruction in the way of righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished in every work. We do pray, O Lord, for Your blessing, we pray for the illumination of Your Spirit. We ask, O Lord, that this difficult portion of Scripture might become meaningful to us O Lord. Grant that from it we might garner all that we need for the course of this week that lies before us and grant especially that our Savior Jesus Christ might be honored and glorified, because it is in His name we ask it. Amen.

Well as we began to say briefly last week, chapter 15 begins now another section. It really gives us, in some ways, a conclusion of the previous section and an introduction to the next section. The next section, if you have one of these Bibles with chapter headings, given not by inspiration, but given by an editor in order to help you read your Bible, you will see that chapter 16 begins another series of sevens. This time, seven bowls. We are seeing seven seals in chapter 6 to 8. Then we saw the seven trumpets that followed them. There was a kind of series of seven to, seven visions in chapters 12 to 14. Now in chapter 16 and following, we have seven bowls. Seven seals of God's wrath, seven trumpets of God's wrath, seven bowls of God's wrath.

We have seen also that these sevens depict the course of history right from the resurrection to the ascension of Jesus Christ, right through until His second coming and the inauguration of the day of judgment itself. The seventh seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl will be the announcement of the day of judgment itself.

Now it is my understanding, and it's the understanding of a great many interpreters of Revelation, though I understand of course not all interpreters of Revelation and not all of you, and there is the rub, but my understanding and interpretation of Revelation is that these patterns of seven form a repetitive cycle. That is, each time we are being given the same story, the same story, right through the course of history from the first coming of Jesus Christ through to the second coming of Jesus Christ. We are being given that story in repetitive fashion.

Now, when we come to the seven bowls of God's wrath the story, which is some kind of climax, there now seems to be a greater intensity in the description of these bowls of wrath than was certainly true of the seven trumpets or the seven seals. But before we come to that in chapter 6 we are given this introduction to it. It is a picture of Heaven. It is a picture of the Lord Himself in the temple of God which is described in verse 5 as the tabernacle of the testimony. That is to say, that the tabernacle contained the testimony. The testimony, of course, was the law of God. But within the tabernacle, that is to be more specific, within the ark of the covenant, within the tabernacle that is described in Exodus chapter 25, is the testimony, the law of God.

The chapters that follow are chapters which predominately focus upon the judgment of God rather than the grace of God. Since they focus on the judgment of God, the focus of attention is necessarily drawn to the fact that within the temple of God is God's law, the basis upon which, and the ground upon which, and the justification for the revelation of God's wrath is because God's law has been broken.

Now God's law is a reflection of God himself. To break the law and to fringe upon the very character of God Himself, as God describes Himself. So, necessarily here when God reveals Himself in the temple, there are all the trappings and paraphernalia of His glory and of His majesty and you see things like the glory of God and His power and so on, and smoke filling the temple. All of these things are the trappings and paraphernalia of the majesty and the greatness of God.

Seven angels appear. The angels and those to whom will be given these seven bowls are described, in verse 6, as wearing garments. Dressed in clean shining linen and wearing golden sashes around their chest. In other words, they looked like priests. It's taken the picture language of the Old Testament priesthood because this is a picture of the tabernacle or the temple. It is taking that description of the priests and now the priests are angels, and the priests were forever carrying these golden bowls in the temple. That is one of the things that the priests carried. They are not fooled this time either with the blood of sacrifice or the water for all of the ceremonies of ablution which were necessary in temple worship. This time these bowls contained the wrath of God. The wrath of God. Notice the song that they sing in verses 3 and 4. The language of this song, by the way, is taken almost verbatim from various passages of the Old Testament, one of which is the song of Moses in Exodus 15, and the other is that song that is found at the close of Deuteronomy 32. There is a part of this song that is taken from Psalm 110. 'Great and marvelous,' you Americans might say, 'awesome' in an altogether meaning of that word. Great and Marvelous are Your deeds, Lord God almighty. Just and true are Your ways, King of the ages.

Let me focus on that expression, 'just and true are Your ways.' This morning, and indeed over these past weeks, we considered together the book of Revelation and have focused of necessity on this attribute of God, mainly His wrath. Now there are other attributes of God revealed in the book of Revelation. Particularly, of course, the attributes of love and mercy and covenantal faithfulness to God's people. Don't forget that. That is one of the reasons why the book of Revelations is written. To be a source of encouragement to the Lord's people. They have inscribed upon them the very covenantal promises of God, that He will never leave them nor forsake them. As opposed to the mark of the beast that is upon those who are the enemies of God, the unrepentant, militant enemies of God, the people of God are safe and secure.

Part of the reason for writing the book of Revelation is that every hostile power, every force antagonistic to God from the devil downwards, is going to be destroyed. Babylon is going to be destroyed. Rome is going to be destroyed, the Roman empire that is. He wrote to Christians facing, as they were, the hostility of Roman persecution, some of which had already occurred, some of whom had already died and were martyrs. That's why you have, let me remind you again because it is a key to the interpretation of Revelation, the cry for vengeance in chapter 6 in verses 9, 10, and 11, especially verse 10. "How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our bloods?"

Now I wonder if you still have some degree of difficulty with that cry for vengeance. This isn't a cry that Christians take vengeance into their own hands. That's not what Revelation six is about. It's about God taking vengeance upon His enemies. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

We live in an age where people think that Christianity is all about what is really contrary to Christianity. Christianity is about, well it's about love isn't it? It's about warm touchy, feely love things. It's about father Christmas. It's about everybody getting together holding hands and singing a carol. That's what Christianity is all about. Here you have in the book of Revelation this theme that runs, from beginning to end, of the wrath of God and the vengeance of God. Now I put it to you, that if the vengeance of God and the wrath of God doesn't fit into your theology of God your understanding of who God is, or what God is like, then you can tear Revelation out of your Bible because it doesn't make any sense. It's an un-Christian, sub-Christian book . Now is that strong? Yes it is, but that's the view of many liberal scholars to this very day. That the book of Revelation is unworthy of being compiled within a book called the Bible. There are many interpreters of Revelation that find the message of Revelation sub-Christian.

Now, just remember who wrote the book of Revelation. Here is the astonishing thing, it's John isn't it? Who is John? John is often called the apostle of love. "Love one another," John says. You know the wonderful story of the apostle John when he is dying and he is being carried on a chair through the church of Ephesus. He's saying his last words apparently, so we're told, and his last words were "Love one another." Yet it's John who writes this astonishing, marvelous book of Revelation.

Now, we've been studying it together now for, fifteen, sixteen weeks or so. It's still a mystery to us. It's still profound isn't it? One thing is very clear. If you ask what the book of Revelation is primarily about, well, I hope you say it's about comforting the Lord's people. Because if you truly are one of the Lord's people then there is every ground for being confident, safe and secure because God will never ever abandon His own.

But, it is a two-sided message isn't it? Because in order for God to vindicate His covenant there is another side, there is a negative side. Because God has to reveal His wrath too. You see, none of us can be saved, one of us can be redeemed, none of us can be rescued apart from the revelation of God's wrath. That revelation of God's wrath takes place in Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary where we are coming to in the expositions of Matthew's gospel. Slowly but surely we are coming towards that cry of dereliction on the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" as Jesus takes the words of Psalms 22 onto His lips.

You see, God cannot reveal His love to us apart from the revelation of His wrath. His wrath falls not on us, but upon our substitute and our sin bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why, by the way, Christmas is so very special, because Christmas is the time when we celebrate the coming into the world of that one who is our substitute and sin bearer.

Now, let's go back to this song in Revelation 15. "Just and true are Your ways." I wonder this morning, is there a nagging suspicion in your mind that all this emphasis on the wrath of God, on the seven seals of judgment and the seven trumpets of judgment and the seven bowls of judgment, I wonder if there is some nagging suspicion that creeps up in your head and says, "This doesn't sound very just to me." Here is this cry, and this cry is coming from Heaven. It's saying that everything that God does is just, everything. The totality of the works of God are just. The reason why we have trouble with the wrath of God is because we have trouble with the whole idea of sin. The more shallow we think about sin, the more difficulty we will have understanding the Revelation of God's wrath. It's only as we truly appreciate what sin is, namely an offense to the Almighty God Himself, that we begin to appreciate that the Revelation of God's wrath against sin is all together just. It is the reflex. It is the reflex of God's holy character against every infringement and violation of His law.

So isn't it interesting that the song that is sung in heaven is a song underlining the justice of God, the covenantal faithfulness of God, which I think lies behind the word true. God is true to Himself and true to His word and true to His promise. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to Your name? Well of course, some will not fear Him in the right sense. The enemies of God for one. You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before You for Your righteous acts have been revealed.

It's a beautiful song. One of those songs that has the trappings of Old Testament theology about it. Especially notice that that 'all nations will come and worship before You.' Now it's not universalistic, it's not saying that every single individual will come and worship, not in that sense. It is saying that there will be people from every tribe. and language, and tongue. and people, and race, and ethnic origin. All the people groups, to use modern language understanding. All the people groups of the world will come and worship before the Lord.

Now you see a glimpse of that, don't you, on the day of Pentecost. Do you remember on the day of Pentecost, I have got to turn to it and remind you, for here is the inauguration of the new covenant. The pouring out of God's spirit. It is the vindication that the work of Jesus Christ in giving Himself as our redeemer has been wholly acceptable to God. As part, now, of God's covenantal faithfulness, He sends forth that Holy Spirit that He has promised. Do you remember who was there on the day of Pentecost? Parthians, Medes and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. Doesn't that remind you of all nations? It's just a little glimpse, you see, on the day of Pentecost where God is intending to do. That He has a people that He intends to save. That He intends to bring to Himself through the preaching of the gospel and the evangelism of God's people, He intends to bring these people from all the tribes and nations of the world. That's the song now being sung in Revelations 15. After they have sung this beautiful song notice wholly focuses upon God, upon His kingdom, upon His character and upon His attributes.

Can I make an application here about worship, true worship. In the book of Revelation we are sometimes given a little glimpse of heavenly worship. If you are to be asked the question, how should you model earthly worship? On what should you model earthly worship? Answer, you model earthly worship on the pattern of heavenly worship. That seems to make sense doesn't it. It seems to make sense that those in heaven know how to worship aright. That the best kind of worship, the most sinless worship, the most profound worship, the most Christ glorifying worship is the worship of heaven, the worship of angels, the worship of the redeemed in Heaven, the worship of cherubim and seraphim who see and experience the glory of God in ways that we have only just begun to do so. Well, here is the pattern of heavenly worship given to us here. It's pattern is wholly focused upon God.

Now it's one of the issues I think in the whole debate and discussion that takes place on worship today. Let me just throw this one in for your consideration and thinking. One of the issues that must always mark true biblical worship is the extent to which it focuses upon the character and the glory of almighty God. It's so very easy isn't it, for worship to turn in upon itself, to become man focused or feelings focused rather than God focused. Well, these angels, these seven angels dressed like priests, are given these bowls and they are now told to pour these bowls upon the earth. Look at the first verse of chapter 16, "I heard a loud voice from the temple." The voice is coming either from God the Father, or possibly from Christ Himself, though more probably from God the Father. That would seem to be the focus of the book of Revelation. "Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, 'go pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth'"

Here they come in fast sequence, number one in verse two, the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Now we have seen the references to the mark of the beast back in Revelation 13 where, do you remember we saw the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth. Are two individuals or one. Are meant to be the anti Christ or the false prophet. Some see them as false religion.

However you interpret that, here is the mark of the beast in verse 18. One can calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number, it is 666. We have seen how that represents a sort of totality of imperfection, with a seven, of course, being a perfect number. God creates in six days and rests on one, making seven. Seven is the perfect number in the bible, so six is always uncompleted, always falls short of perfection and is the trinity of imperfection, that symbolic way of describing the mark of the beast. Those who worship, those who have the mark of the beast, that is the unrepentant sinners, those who refuse to repent and believe the gospel, and worship his image, the bowl of wrath is poured upon them.

Idolatry, that's what this first bowl of wrath is signaling. The first commandment, the second commandment and in some ways the third commandment speaking to the whole issue of idolatry. Worshiping God in a way other than that which He has revealed Himself. Calvin, when he came to write The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536, which went through several editions until the final edition in 1556, wrote this wonderful little sentence, "That man's mind is a perpetual factory of idols." Man's mind is a perpetual factory of idols. We're constantly producing idols, making God after our own image. Here is the bowl of wrath poured out now on impenitent, idolatrous sinners. That is the first one.

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea and it turned into blood like that of a dead man and every living thing in the sea died. Now, the imagery of course, is taken from the Old Testament. I don't think for one minute men could interpret this in a literal faction. This is Old Testament imagery. It's one of the plagues of Egypt isn't it? You have seen how John has constantly been referring to those ten plagues of Egypt. It the seventh plague, where the river Nile was turned into blood. Here is this description of the sea now turned into blood and every living thing in it dies. The judgment on land in the first one, this judgment on the sea in the second one. In other words, there is a kind of totality of judgment.

There is a sense that nothing is going to escape the judgment of God. Remember that our understanding of these bowls is of something that is taking place right now. It's not of something that is going to take place in the future so much, but it's something that is continually taking place, right up until the second coming of Jesus Christ on the day of judgment. There is a sense in which these bowls of wrath are saying, 'there is no where to hide from the judgment of God and the wrath of God.'

The third angel, in verse 4, poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water and they became blood. The same kind of imagery again, "then I heard the angel in charge of the water say again,' you are just in these judgments.'" See that again repetition from chapter 15 and verse 3, 'just and true are your ways.' Now again in 16:5, "You are just in these judgments." Does that come at an appropriate point for you, as you begin to read the unfolding of these bowls of wrath, wondering "How can this possibly be just?" Here is this cry and reminder, everything that God does is just. We may not understand it, we may not always be able to comprehend it, we may not always be able to put all the pieces together, especially as the Lord's people who sometimes get caught up in the peripheries of these judgments. You know, God judges the world with an earthquake. Then the Lord's people are also going to get caught up in that. Isn't that true? That's the problem isn't it? That's the difficulty. The truth is that this world, of course, is not our home.

The truth for the Lord's people is that even though we may be asked to pass through the fiery trials of this world, God knows those who are His. He will bring His own to Himself. That's an inviolable promise that God has made.

You are just in these judgments. You who are and were the holy one, because You have so judged, because they have shed the blood of Your saints and prophets, You have given them blood to drink as they deserve.

Now that's really somber isn't it? It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Now, you are recoiling at that. You're saying, "Now that's not right." What's the principle? What's the principle of jurisprudence in the Old Testament? The punishment must fit the crime. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Not two eyes for one eyes, not a whole set of dentures for one tooth. It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

What does that say about modern jurisprudence? On both sides of the spectrum, if you punish somebody and teach them a lesson in order to teach somebody else a lesson, and you punish them more than they deserve, well, that's not biblical jurisprudence. Equally, if you punish them less than what they deserve this is not biblical jurisprudence. They had shed innocent blood. They had killed Christians, in other words. The background here is probably the Roman Empire and some of the Neroian persecutions, and coming in the ྖs of the first century were the persecutions and the Empire dominion, and many Christians died horrible deaths. They were dressed in animal skins and then put into a ring and wild animals came and devoured them. They were put inside logs and sawed in half. All kind of horrible things were done to them and here is the punishment. It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. On the day of judgment, when God finally judges, His judgment will be all together just and true.

As we come to Christmas, how do we put something as dark and somber and painful all into the context of Christmas week? Ask yourself, what is it that happened on the cross of Calvary? This baby that was born in Bethlehem, He was born in order that He may live a perfect life and die on the cross of Calvary. There the absolute love of a holy righteous God. In our rooms, let us think about that in the course of this week. We will pick this up again next week. Let's pray

Our Father in Heaven, parts of Your word are somber. We pray for the ministry of Your Spirit to write it upon our hearts and give us a glimpse of Your glory for Jesus sake. Amen.

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