Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Seven Bowls of Wrath

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

If you have not followed this series from the beginning, I recommend that you visit this post about the structure of Revelation. The thesis of that post is that the structure of the book of Revelation, after the vision of the throne, consists of seven profiles of the future. Each profile tells the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, but each has its own time line and purpose.

Recap: The seven seals told the story of the coming Kingdom of God from a natural point of view. It involved war, violence, famine, and martyrdom. Such things happen in the natural realm, although the intensity during the very end of this age might be markedly increased. The trumpets told the story from a more supernatural view. The events that follow each blast of a trumpet were unlike anything that the world has seen. If the seven seals were about the end coming from the natural consequences of human activity and sin, then the trumpets were about the Lord applying pressure on mankind by providing a foretaste of the wrath that is coming. The seven persons revealed the main players in the drama and the place that Satan has in motivating the kings of the earth against the saints.

The next section focuses on the wrath of God. It opens this way:

Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and his image and the number of his name. They were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps given to them by God. They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations! Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:2-4, The Net Bible)

The sea of glass before the throne is no longer transparent. It shows a change and now seems full of fire. It is an angry image. Associated with this sea of glass are those who had conquered the beast, and his image and the number of his name. In other words, they had held out till the end and took on the name of Jesus and His Father instead. These are the ones who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. They were holding harps and singing a very ancient song. I believe that these are now the full number of those who were to be killed (see Revelation 6:9-11). They sang the song of Moses and the Lamb, which the children of Israel had sung after crossing the Red Sea. Here is the text from Exodus:

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you?—majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them. By your loyal love you will lead the people whom you have redeemed; you will guide them by your strength to your holy habitation. The people will hear and be afraid; anguish will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, and the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone until your people pass over, O Lord, until the people pass over, which you have bought. You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place, O Lord, you made for your residence, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands have established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever! (Exodus 15:11-18)

It is interesting to see in the above song that even though it was Pharaoh's armies that the sea destroyed, all the surrounding nations are now in anguish. As Moses led the children of Israel through the plagues and oppression of Egypt, so the Lamb has led His people through the plagues and oppression of the Great Tribulation. And in so doing, the kings of the now tremble.

That is the main topic for today, but I must first digress and discuss some side issues. These are the Great Tribulation and the Rapture of the Church all as it relates to the Wrath of God. Let me begin with these words of Jesus:

For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21-22)

The above verses are one of the reasons that I believe that there is a future time of great tribulation on the earth. Of course, there has been great suffering for Jews and Christians through the centuries, but can anyone truly say that such times have been unlike any others and such that none will ever happen to such a degree again? The armies of Rome besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it and the temple. But Nebuchadnezzar had done that before and to just as great an intensity. But according to Jesus, a time of greater tribulation must come.

But tribulation is not wrath. Job experienced tribulation, but the Lord was not angry with Him. The sections of the 7 seals, 7 trumpets and the 7 persons have all contained commentary about the saints on the earth who overcame during great tribulation. After the 6th seal, the 6th trumpet, and the 6th person, there has appeared an interlude showing the saints in victory in the midst of the chaos about which these events are told.

There is no escape out of the Great Tribulation for the Church. But there is no rapture to spare the believers from the great tribulation. We are part of the proclamation of the gospel to the whole earth during these times. We are the face of God's mercy. As God applies pressure on the one hand, he will use His people to spread the good news to those who will respond, until those who remain are hardened beyond the ability of God's love and mercy to call. After the sixth trumpet, it is said:

The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing. (Revelation 9:20-21)

Tribulation is not wrath. At the end of the tribulation comes the wrath of God. As I showed in yesterday's post, there are two harvests before the bowls are revealed. The first is a harvest of righteousness and the second is a harvest of wrath. It is my understanding that the first harvest is the rapture of the church near the end of the tribulation period. Her job is done and God will not pour out His wrath with the righteous on the earth. This concept is consistent with other periods of God's wrath:

  • Noah and his family escaped the wrath of the flood, but endured the violence on the earth before the end. (Genesis 6-9)
  • When the Lord told Abram that He was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abram asked God if He would actually destroy the righteous along with the wicked. Abram pleaded for the cities on behalf of 50, 40, and down to 10 righteous people. Two angels entered the city and made sure that Lot and his family escaped. Peter speaks of Lot's suffering in the city of Sodom. (Genesis 18:16-33)
  • When Jerusalem was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was in the city telling the inhabitants to leave the city and give themselves up to the Babylonians. Anyone who knew Jeremiah to be a prophet from the Lord was free to obey God, leave, and be spared the destruction of the city, which was God's wrath poured out on Judah. Jeremiah suffered as a witness to the rest in Jerusalem until the end. (Jeremiah 27)
  • Jesus gave instructions concerning the second destruction of Jerusalem such that those who knew Him and His words would be able to escape that destruction. (Luke 21:20-24)

The wrath of God is much more severe than tribulation. Tribulation has a chastening effect and overcoming tribulation is part of the message of Revelation. Wrath has a purging effect. It is designed to kill and eliminate. And that is what the bowls do:

  1. The skin of mankind erupts in ugly and painful sores. 100% of mankind is affected.
  2. All the sea becomes blood and all the creatures die.
  3. All the waters become blood.
  4. The sun's heat increases and mankind shakes its fist at the Lord and blaspheme His name in anger.
  5. The beast's throne is darkened and mankind blasphemes some more.
  6. The kings of the earth are brought to battle.
  7. There is a huge earthquake and great hailstones and mankind blasphemes again.

There is no interlude among the bowls. The saints are no longer on the earth. We may suffer tribulation for the purposes of God's kingdom. We will not suffer His wrath.

There is a striking feature in these next verses:

Now I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are just—the one who is and who was, the Holy One—because you have passed these judgments, because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!” Then I heard the altar reply, “Yes, Lord God, the All-Powerful, your judgments are true and just!” (Revelation 16:5-7)

There are two speakers. An angel proclaims God's justice in pouring out His wrath because those on the earth had killed His people. The second speaker is the altar. The altar, like the Lamb, is a symbol of God's mercy. Since wrath comes when mercy is no longer possible, the altar joins in praise of God's justice!

The seals had a human face. The trumpets had a supernatural face. The persons had a theatrical face. The bowls have the face of justice and judgment.

Thursday: Babylon Revealed.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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