************ Sermon on Revelation 16:1-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 14, 2009
"The Bowls of God's Wrath"
I The Gap Between Promise/Threat and Reality
A Why can someone be totally honest in his dealings and yet struggle to stay in business while his less than honest competitors are prosperous?
Why can one athlete use illegal drugs to win and land a big endorsement deal while another trains and trains but gets nowhere?
Why can a student cheat on a test and get a scholarship while another student can study hour after hour, get a lower grade, and have to pay their own way through college?
Why does this sort of thing happen? Why do the wicked prosper while God's people suffer?
These questions have always been asked. The psalmists asked these questions (Ps 10, 73, 94). Christians today ask these questions. And, the first century Christians addressed by John asked these questions. Don't forget, the early Christians were persecuted for their faith – they lost their homes and businesses, they couldn't work in the trade guilds, they were not allowed to buy and sell, some of them were killed, others were thrown into prison. All the while, wicked Rome got bigger and more powerful. Remember their loud cry of anguish to God from under heaven's altar?
(Rev 6:10) "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"How long will the wicked prosper? How long will the righteous suffer?
B We see the answer already in Genesis, the Bible's first book, where we meet Abraham. Abraham was promised a seed who would bring blessing to all nations and a homeland secure from all enemies. But this did not happen while he was alive. Why? So Abraham could show us what it is to "live by faith" (Rom 1:17); as one of my commentaries puts it, Abraham was "Living in the Gap Between Promise And Reality".
God also promised judgment upon the heathen. But this also did not happen while Abraham was alive. Why not? "For the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure" (Gen 15:16). God has, as it were, a vessel of justice into which the Amorites are pouring their evil, idolatry, and violence, until the foul brew reaches the bowl's rim and overflows in a flood of divine wrath. In other words, the wicked are also living in the gap. They live in the gap between threat and judgment.
How long will the wicked prosper? How long will the righteous suffer? Until the gap between promise and reality is closed. Until the gap between threat and judgment is closed.
C We see the same answer in the Revelation. The Gospel martyrs cried out with a loud voice, "How long?" Remember the answer?
(Rev 6:11) Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.They were told to wait until God's quota had been met. They were told to wait until the gap between promise and reality, threat and judgment, is closed.
In Revelation 16, we see that the gap is closed. The time of waiting is finished. We have seen the seal judgments visited upon one fourth of the earth. We have seen the trumpet judgments visited upon one third of the earth. Now, we see the bowl judgments visited upon all of the earth.
II The First Five Bowls
A (Rev 16:2) 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.
Sores broke out. Sores. We see that John continues the Exodus language of Revelation 15. I say that because the sores of the first bowl duplicates the sores or boils of the sixth plague in Egypt.
What are we told about the sores of Egypt? The Old Testament calls them "festering boils." Think blisters and leakage and infection. They must have been extremely painful because no one could stand before Moses on account of the boils.
Who gets the sores? Not God's people. They are exempt, just like they are protected from the seal judgments. Who gets the sores? People who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Now another mark is given to them – that of sores. Because they wore one mark, they are now getting another mark. In other words, the punishment fits the crime.
B (Rev 16:3) 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.
The might and power and commerce and economy of Rome was highly dependent upon the Mediterranean Sea. But the sea will be turned to blood. And every living thing in the sea will die. This plague means severe economic suffering – no more fishing, no more trade and commerce, no more travel. It indicates that the world's godless economic system is going to collapse. The world system that opposes God and Christ and persecutes His church is going down (cf Rev 18:3,11,15,17-19).
C (Rev 16:4) The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.
Verse 3 shows the destruction of the salt waters. Verse 4 tells us that all the sources of fresh water are also attacked. And, as you know, life cannot exist without water. This reminds us of the first plague in Egypt – when the Nile was turned to blood. The fish died, the river smelled bad, and no one could drink from the Nile.
Why this judgment on the wicked? Notice what verse 6 says:
(Rev 16:6) for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.And the altar responds – the altar, something without voice and tongue and mind. But this is apocalyptic literature. The altar says:
(Rev 16:7) "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments."We have seen the altar before. It is from under the altar that the Gospel martyrs cry out for justice (Rev 6:10).
Once again, the punishment fits the crime. Blood for blood, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
D (Rev 16:8-9) The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. (9) They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
I want you to take note that the experience of the wicked is the exact opposite of the experience of the righteous:
(Rev 7:15-16) ... they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. (16) Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
E (Rev 16:10-11) The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony (11) and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
I am sure that in the fifth bowl judgment you recognize the ninth plague that was visited on Egypt. The darkness in Egypt was so dark that it could be felt. No light penetrated that darkness. Everyone was alone, afraid, even terrified.
Notice where this plague was poured – "on the throne of the beast." His seat of power is plunged into darkness. His Kremlin. His White House. His center of government. In other words, he is destroyed. What happens when a dictator or dictatorship is destroyed (for that is what the beast is)? Remember what happened in Iraq – chaos. Remember what happened in Afghanistan – chaos. Schools and hospitals are closed, businesses are shuttered, garbage piles up, the water is turned off, raw sewage flows through the streets. No one dares to do anything or go anywhere. People gnaw their tongues and chew their lips and bite their finger nails. When a man's idol has been dethroned, the result is fear and anguish.
Again, I want you to notice that the experience of the wicked is the opposite of the righteous.
(Rev 21:23-25) The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it ... (25) for there will be no night there.No darkness, no fear, no anguish, no gnawing of tongues or chewing of lips or biting of nails.
This overview of the first five bowl judgments leads me to make three conclusions or observations.
III God's Judgments
The first observation: let there be no doubt about this – the bowl judgments, like the seal and trumpet judgments, are from God. Listen to verse 1:
(Rev 16:1) 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."
Revelation 16 starts with two orders: "Go, pour out." Who gives the order? "A loud voice from the temple." Whose loud voice? According to Revelation 15:6, it can't be one of the seven angels because they came out of the temple. Revelation 15:8 tells us that "the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power." The same verse also tells us that "no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed" (Rev 15:8). That leaves only one person – the Lord God Almighty. The Lord God Almighty Who called forth the seal and trumpet judgments is also the One Who calls forth the bowl judgments. We are not to view the bowl judgments, then, as random, accidental events. Rather, we are to see them as expressions of God's righteous wrath.
Notice, too, that John hears a "loud" voice. The Greek actually says a "great" voice. God does not make a suggestion to the seven angels – "It is about time for the bowls to be poured out." God is not making an inquiry – "Do you think it is time for the bowls to be poured out?" In a great, loud, commanding, and overpowering voice, God orders the bowls to be poured out. Why this tone of voice? Because God is angry. He is powerfully angry with sin and unbelief and wickedness and idolatry and a lack of repentance, so He commands these judgments.
Furthermore, do you notice what the seven angels pour out? They pour out "God's wrath on the earth" (Rev 16:1). God's wrath!
Look at verses 5 & 6. The angel in charge of the waters worships the God Who is "just in these judgments ... and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve." And then the altar responds, "true and just are [God's] judgments" (Rev 16:7). In the bowls we see God's judgments.
Look at verse 8. We are told that the sun was "given power" to scorch people with fire. "Given power." Here is another instance of the divine passive in the Revelation. The sun has no will or power or ability to act on its own. The sun was given power by God. It is controlled and directed by God. Again, God's judgments.
Look at verse 9. God is identified as He "who had control over these plagues." God's judgments.
Earlier in the Revelation, God is described as the God "who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4,8; 4:8). Now, take note of the description of God in verse 5: "you who are and who were." Notice what is missing? God no longer is the God "who is to come." Why not? Because God has now shown up to judge the living and the dead. The gap between promise and reality, threat and judgment, has been closed.
So, John makes it very clear to us – the bowl judgments are from God.
Many preachers and churches today present a picture of a tolerant God, a God Who turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to sin, a God Who does not judge sin, a God Who is only love and not anger. But this is not the God of the Bible. This certainly is not the God of Revelation. The God of many churches today is nothing but the idol-god of our politically correct, tolerant, all-inclusive culture.
Even the heathen know better than many in today's church. Look at verse 9 – "they cursed the name of God." Look at verse 11 – they "cursed the God of heaven." Can you believe this? The heathen get it right while the church doesn't?! They know the bowl judgments come from God.
IV God's Character
The second observation: God's character is revealed to us in the bowl judgments. Verse 5 tells us God is "just." In verse 7, heaven's altar adds that God is "true." God has a zealous commitment to what is right. The wicked get exactly what they deserve – no more and no less. He is the God Who one day will settle every account, respond to every evil, set right every wrong, and remove all wickedness.
Verse 5 also tells us God is "the Holy One". This means He hates sin, He has a passionate hatred for sin. He despises anything and everything that mars His creation.
Verse 7 tells us God is the "Lord God Almighty" (Rev 15:7). He is sovereign. He is the God Who made heaven and earth. He is the living God. His is kingdom, power, and glory. So, the dragon, the beast, and the wicked cannot stand against His judgments or stop them.
Are God's holiness and justice and truth and might an embarrassment to you? Something you are ashamed of? Something you try to sweep under the carpet? To deny God's character is to deny God Himself.
V Human Sin
The third observation has to do with the objects of God's wrath. The judgments of God – whom do they fall upon? They fall upon people who have "the mark of the beast and worship his image" (Rev 16:2). These are people who willingly conform to the pattern of this world. These are people who are in opposition to God and Jesus and the Gospel and the church, people who "have shed the blood of your saints and prophets" (Rev 16:6). These are not good people. These are not righteous people. These are not Christians.
Three times we are told that these people have cursed the name of God (Rev 16:9,11,21). Go back to Revelation 13. Three times in that chapter we are told that the beast out of the sea blasphemes God (Rev 13:1,5,6). Which tells us what? That the wicked are like their master, that they have taken on the character of the false god they serve.
How wicked are these people? They know that the judgments are from God, they know that the judgments are a warning from God, they know that the judgments are a call to repentance. "But they refused to repent and glorify him" (Rev 16:9). "But they refused to repent of what they had done" (Rev 16:11). THEY REFUSED TO REPENT. So they get what "they deserve" (Rev 16:6).
You know what – and here is the Gospel message – this is also what you and I deserve. But this is not our experience. Instead, by the grace of God, we are like Israel in Egypt. God poured out plague upon plague on Egypt: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, firstborn. Where was Israel? Safe and sound in Goshen. God pours out plague upon plague on the wicked. Where are we? We are safe and sound behind the blood of Jesus.
How long will the wicked prosper? How long will the righteous suffer? Not forever. Someday, the gap will be closed. Someday, the gap between promise and reality, threat and judgment, will be closed. On that day, the world will meet with judgment and God's people will meet with salvation.
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