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A. Today we look at the first five of the seven bowls of God’s wrath poured out upon the earth.
B. Revelation 16:1-11 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.” 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. 3 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. 4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 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. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 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. 10 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 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
1. Beginning in Rev.6, we have read of seven seals, seven trumpets, seven visions, now seven bowls.
2. It would be unwise not to connect these seven bowls with the seven seals and the seven trumpets which came earlier. The seven bowls are so similar to the seven trumpets: they are both directed against the earth, then the sea, then the rivers and springs, then the sun, then the realm of the wicked with darkness. They are also both clearly reflective of the ten plagues in Egypt.
3. This is part of the reason why we have concluded that these sevens are to be taken as cyclical, addressing the same time period over and over again, much like the four gospels.
4. What is this time period? We have taken the seven seals and seven trumpets to depict afflictions experienced upon the earth during this present age, between the first and second comings of Christ – all the storms, hurricanes, wars, famines, droughts, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, heat spells, accidents, polarizations, fires, drug overdoses, pandemics, depressions, coups, mental health issues, diseases, genetic mutations, and thousands of things which go wrong with people’s bodies, and other assorted troubles.
5. The seven bowls seems to fit into this as well.
6. Last week we covered the introduction to the seven bowls in Rev.15.
a. The seven bowls seems to spring forth from the last of the seven visions, which was sort of a final-day recapitulation of the Red Sea celebration after the Exodus.
b. Whereas the other sets of sevens all build toward a grand finale of the end of history, this series of seven begins with the glorious vision of the end and then portrays the tribulations of this age as a flashback.
c. The seven bowls seem to reflect the ten plagues God poured out upon Egypt in Moses’ day.
(1) Six of the seven are directly linked to one of the ten plagues, and the other one is the direct opposite of another of the ten plagues.
D. There are five scenes here:
1. In the first scene John hears 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.” (V.1)
2. Then, in the second scene, the first angel pours out his bowl on the earth causing harmful and painful sores upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. (V.2)
3. The third scene (v.3-7) is more complicated. First, the second angel pours out his bowl into the sea, and it becomes like the blood of a corpse, and all living things in the sea die. Then the third angel pours out his bowl into the rivers and springs, and they become blood. And then John hears the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments.” And why has God brought these judgments upon these people? It’s because “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and so God has given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And then finally John hears the altar (presumably the saints under the altar, mentioned in 6:9) saying, “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
4. Then, in the fourth scene, the fourth angel pours out his bowl on the sun, such that the sun scorches people with fire and fierce heat, and the people curse the name of God who had power over these plagues, instead of repenting and giving Him glory. (V.8-9)
5. In the fifth scene, the fifth angel pours out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and the beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness. This results in people gnawing their tongues in anguish and cursing the God of heaven for their pain and sores, instead of repenting of their deeds. (V.10-11)
II. Five things which stand out
A. From mark to sore
1. 2 So harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast.
2. What seemed at first to be innocent, minor & superficial evolves into something toxic, penetrating & disgusting.
B. Nothing but justice
1. It is safe to say that the ones who are being punished despise their penalty.
a. V.9 says that “they cursed God who had power over these plagues.”
b. V.10 says that they “gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores.”
2. And I’m sure they felt that they were being treated unjustly.
3. But, they were getting just what they deserved.
a. 6 “It is what they deserve!”
b. 7 “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
C. Punishment for persecution
1. It is clear they refuse to acknowledge God or His rule. But the reason stated here for their punishment is their persecution of the saints, as it says in v.6...
2. “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink!”
D. The fifth bowl is poured out not upon the earth or sea or sun, but upon the throne of the beast.
1. If you remember, we interpreted the beast as the antichrist, both in the final, individual sense and in the more general sense.
2. In other words, the beast represents the world’s system opposing Christ.
3. So, when the fifth bowl is poured out upon the throne of the beast plunging it into darkness and causing the people to gnaw their tongues in anguish and curse God, it seems that this refers to events on earth ordained to show the ungodly the futility of this world and of their idolatry.
4. This causes them to gnaw their tongues in anguish and curse God of heaven.
5. You see, God allows those who follow the beast to have times of anguish and horror when they ponder their spiritual darkness, their separation from God, and the eternal darkness which awaits them, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
III. Standing over all this havoc being wreaked on the earth is God, who brings all these plagues.
A. This was already clear with the seals and the trumpets.
B. But it is stated here even more clearly and repeatedly.
1. First, in Rev.16:1, the seven bowls are called “the seven bowls OF THE WRATH OF GOD.”
2. Revelation 16:5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, ...for you brought these judgments.”
3. Rev.16:9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. ...10...People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores.
IV. This has a number of implications.
A. We should not scoff at the concept that the lifestyle of humans is the reason things on the planet are falling apart. Just because that is the refrain of liberals doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong.
1. What they often do get wrong is that the human sin behind it all is not anything so narrow as man’s exploitation of the planet; it is man’s rebellion against God in all its manifestations.
2. God can send hurricanes and forest fires because of human idolatry or because of the persecution of His children. It doesn’t have to be connected to an activity which causes the hurricanes.
B. Nor should our confidence lie is the planet’s ability to continually bounce back from mistreatment or disruption.
1. When God sets out to disrupt the planet, He can do so without having to overcome some resilience which the planet naturally possesses.
C. Man hates the troubles of life, of course, but he hates even more the idea that it is God who sends these troubles because of sin.
1. People say, “If there really was a good God in charge, He would make this world a good place where good things happen.” In other words, “A good God would never be angry with me.”
2. What’s really going on is that people are angry with God for allowing their lives to be troubled and the world to be a place of struggle and pain. This anger is reflective of human rebellion. They want to be God’s judge instead of God being their judge.
3. Every new bowl poured out elicits a new cry of outrage: “they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”
4. Even when God displays His power, mankind protests instead of repenting.
5. The wrath of God is poured out with painful sores and environmental catastrophes to the point that they experience inner despair, but it only fuels their hatred for God and His people. They curse God all the more, and refuse to repent.
V. But the fact that God is pouring out His wrath on earth also raises some questions.
A. What’s the purpose of all this? What’s the point if the wicked will be judged in the end anyway?
1. Well, why did God bring plagues upon Egypt? Why would He bring plagues on the world now?
2. Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
3. Romans 9:22–23 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.
4. Who are these “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? He’s talking about Pharaoh and the Egyptians! He bore their defiance with much patience!
5. The plagues were acts of divine restraint! Instead of pouring out all His wrath upon the Egyptians, He merely gave them small tastes of it, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
6. And why did God do this? “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”
7. God is showing His power over evil, and He is making known His glorious grace to the objects of His mercy. This is why mankind is experiencing mere trials instead of final judgment.
8. This is very consistent with what Jesus said about some local disasters which occurred in His day:
a. Luke 13:1-5 Some told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
b. These are tastes of the coming judgment. Take them as warnings and get yourself ready.
B. How is this consistent with “Father, forgive them” or “Do not hold their sins against them”?
1. We have two very different portrayals in the NT of the disposition of the Lord toward sinners.
2. On the one hand, He is very kind, patient and gracious, not wanting any to perish but all to come to salvation (2Pet.3:9).
3. On the other hand – and this is the primary disposition in the book of Revelation – He is wrathful and severe.
4. Obviously, since they’re both in the Bible, they’re both correct, though in our minds there seems to be some tension between them.
5. But God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
6. What we know is this:
a. It is very tempting to gravitate toward one and away from the other, based on our personality and preference. Or sometimes we gravitate toward one for ourselves and another for others.
(1) We think of God’s grace toward ourselves and wrath toward others, or we think of God’s wrath toward ourselves and grace toward others.
(2) But these temptations must be resisted.
b. Also, we know that the consistent call in the NT is for God’s people to have an attitude of grace and kindness not only toward each other but toward nonbelievers!
(1) And even when the wrath of God toward the wicked is acknowledged, it is not something we are supposed to exercise. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
(2) So, it’s not that we are supposed to forget about or ignore the wrath of God toward the wicked, it is just that we are supposed to leave that to God.
7. So, should we tell people who are the victims of catastrophes and disasters that God is punishing them for their sin? No, because we don’t know that.
a. Some are God’s elect but not yet converted and we might be His instruments of loving them to Christ. Some are saints of God who need our love and help. And even those who are experiencing the judgment of God and will never be saved, even if we could know who they were, our job is still to love our neighbor. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:20
C. Are God’s people shielded from these bowls of His wrath? Yes and no.
1. Believers are not shielding from afflictions but they are shielded from the evil of the afflictions.
2. We should not view our tribulations as collateral damage experienced because we happen to get splashed when the bowls are poured out because we happen to be standing next to the targets.
3. God has perfect aim. His wrath doesn’t produce collateral damage.
4. When the bowls of His wrath are poured out they cause NO unintended damage.
5. Of course, believers do experience disappointment and setback and failure and loss – and even tragedy – but for them, these things are just the medicine they need. They are helpful, never harmful. God allows only the suffering He knows we need, in just the right amount and duration, and not an ounce or a second more.
6. Think about the contrast between the experience of the wicked just in the language of these first five bowls – the wrath of God, harmful and painful sores, drinking water like the blood of a corpse, scorched with fire and fierce heat, plunged into darkness, people gnawing their tongues in anguish, cursing God for their pain and sores – and what the NT tells us about the tribulations which come into the lives of believers:
a. Consider it all joy when you face various trials. (James 1:2)
b. These light, momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2Cor.4:17)
c. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings... If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (1Peter 4:12-14)
7. In the dark alley next to the hospital, a gang member plunges a knife into the belly of his enemy, while just a few feet away a skilled surgeon inserts his knife into the belly of a patient to perform an emergency appendectomy. They are very similar, but one is destructive and one constructive.
8. Only God is powerful enough and clever enough to send a hurricane or a fire or a war or a pandemic which delivers just the right punishment on the wicked, just the right pressure on the unconverted elect to nudge them toward Christ, and just the right discipline on His saints to teach them not to get too connected to and dependent on earthly things and to show them that Jesus is their all-in-all.