************ Sermon on Revelation 16:17-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 28, 2009
"The Seventh Bowl of God's Wrath"
A cousin of Ruth home-schooled their children. Their son begged to go to highschool for his last year. The parents agreed. Another student gave him some pills to try. He foolishly took them, went into a coma, and died a couple of weeks ago.
Someone I know had her identity stolen. Her bank account was emptied. Credit cards were maxed out. PC World estimates that it will cost her over $4000 and more than 200 hours of her time to straighten everything out.
Our son Josh came home this week. His mother noticed a dent in the front right fender. Someone in the Modesto area did a hit and run on his car.
A couple of years ago, a drunk driver crossed the line and hit another car. The drunk passed out. The teenaged son of a Rotary friend was killed.
We all know and have experienced such suffering. We all know and have experienced the results of the sinful actions of sinful people – though, don't forget, we are just as sinful as anyone else. The question is, how do we respond to this? How do we deal with this? Within all of us is a desire to strike out, to hit back, to get even, to take matters into our own hands.
We must never forget that in Jesus Christ, God subjected Himself to the sinful behavior of sinful people. So the question becomes, how do we respond to this in the same way as God? How do we respond Christianly?
John's audience, as you know, repeatedly faced the results of the sinful actions of sinful people. They were removed from the trade guilds and could not buy or sell, they lost their homes and businesses, they were thrown into prison, they were martyred for the Gospel's sake, they watched family members sold into slavery. Now, how many times did John urge his readers to strike out and strike back? How many times did John advise them to go down swinging? How many times did John tell them to make a united stand against the enemies of the cross and the Gospel? How many times? Zero times – that is how many. Why? Was John a pacifist? No! Did John ignore injustice? No! Rather, John waited upon the Lord. Which means what? Which means John renounced violence and revenge because he knew that at the end of history God will set all wrongs right.
I The Final Judgments
A Let me remind you of where we are at in the Revelation. We are looking at the last series of judgments. We have already seen the seal judgments – which are executed upon one quarter of the earth. We have seen the trumpet judgments – which are executed upon one third of the earth. Now we are looking at the bowl judgments – which are executed upon all of the earth. In other words, we are now at history's end. We are looking at final justice, frightening justice.
B Earlier in the Revelation, we were given a picture of Jesus as the "Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" (Rev 5:5); He is mighty, glorious, powerful, wise, eternal (Rev 1). Then, He is described as a "Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" (Rev 5:6). But now He is "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" (Rev 19:16); "out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations; He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty " (Rev 19:15). He is no longer Jesus, meek and mild – as if He ever was this. Instead, He is a frightful enemy for those who hate Him, His Gospel, His Father, and His church. Again, we are looking at final justice, frightening justice.
Jesus as the coming Judge is the reason we can resist retaliation when we face the sinful actions of sinful people. We know that what we can do is paltry and inconsequential compared to what Jesus can do. And, we know that our judgments often are unjust and flawed – but His are always true and just (Rev 16:5-7).
C Back in Revelation chapters 12-14, John introduced us to the enemies of God, Christ, and the Gospel. They are, in order, the dragon – who is also called the ancient serpent and the devil; the beast out of the sea – who is the antiChrist; the beast out of the earth – who is the false prophet; and Babylon – which is the world in its organized defiance against God. These are God's enemies and they show their hatred for God by attacking God's people, the church.
Beginning with our Scripture reading this morning we see the destruction of God's enemies in the reverse order in which they are introduced. So, in Revelation chapters 16-19 we see the destruction of Babylon; in Revelation 19 we see the destruction of the beast and the false prophet; and, in Revelation 20 we see the destruction of Satan.
Here, then, at the outpouring of the last plague, we see the "great city" Babylon in God's cross-hairs; Babylon is the bull's eye in God's target of divine wrath.
II The End of God's Judging Activity
A The first thing we notice in our Scripture reading is that the pouring out of the seventh bowl marks the end of God's judging activity:
(Rev 16:17) The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!"
The seventh angel, like the six angels before him, pours out his bowl. But notice where he pours out his bowl – "into the air" (Rev 16:17). "Into the air" – that is, the atmosphere that surrounds the earth; that is, what people breathe. What is going on here?
We are to see the seventh bowl as part of God's judgment upon the entire created realm. Review with me, for a moment, what happened with the previous bowls: The first angel poured out his bowl upon the land (Rev 16:2), the second angel on the sea (Rev 16:3), the third angel on fresh waters (Rev 16:4), the fourth angel on the sun (Rev 16:8), and the seventh angel on the air (Rev 16:17). Land, sea, fresh water, sun, air. This last one is the most inclusive of them all – for no one can escape a plague of judgment upon the air. This, as I said, marks the end of God's judging activity – because the entirety of creation now sits under judgment.
B John also hears a voice. Notice where the voice comes from – "out of the temple ... from the throne" (Rev 16:17). We have heard other voices in the Revelation. But this time there is something special. Do you know what it is? Sometimes, the voice in Revelation comes from the temple; other times, it comes from the throne; this time it comes "out of the temple ... from the throne" (Rev 16:17). Why? So there is no doubt about where it comes from. So there is no doubt about who it comes from. So there is no doubt about the authority of the voice. This loud, authoritative, overpowering voice is the voice of God Himself.
Listen to what the voice says: "It is done!" (Rev 16:17). One word in the Greek text. "It is done. It is finished. It is over. It is completed." What is done? What is God talking about? Go back one chapter:
(Rev 15:1) 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.Look at this verse as a promise. The seven bowls are the last of God's plagues. The seven bowls mark the completion of God's wrath. Well, now we see this promise has been fulfilled – "It is done. It is finished. It is over. It is completed."
God's wrath for so long has been held back, for so long has been restrained, for so long has been bound. Why? Because God is patient. Because God does not want anyone to perish. Because God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). But no more holding back, no more restraints, no more bounds. Now the wrath of God is being poured out in all its fullness. Well, then, why the next three chapters in the Revelation? Because they merely explain in greater detail what God Himself declares right here – that "It is done!"
C The created realm affirms what the voice says – that "It is done." For what do we see next?
(Rev 16:18) Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake.
Revelation 15 & 16 uses Exodus language. You know – when Israel escaped from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and came to Mount Sinai. Take note of all the similarities. We saw plagues. We saw a Red Sea. We saw God's victorious people standing at the edge of the sea. We heard a song of praise and triumph. We saw the ark of the Testimony. We saw the tabernacle. We saw smoke and glory and power. And now? Now there is lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake just as there was at Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai, these signs marked the coming of God; likewise, here, too, they mark the coming of God.
Haven't we already seen this in the Revelation? What happens at the end of the seal judgments?
(Rev 8:5) Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.We see the same thing at the end of the trumpet judgments:
(Rev 11:19) Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.And now we see the same thing with the bowl judgments. Indicating what? Meaning what? Lightning, rumblings, thunder, and earthquakes means the end of the judgments: "It is done!"
III The Description of God's Judging Activity
A The second thing we observe in our Scripture reading is a description of God's judging activity. John describes judgment as an earthquake. In our English Bibles, two words are used to describe the earthquake: "severe" and "tremendous." In the Greek, it is one word used twice – the word "great." "Great" is a word the Bible uses in a number of ways: great in quantity, great in degree, great in size, great in status, great in duration. The earthquake John tells us about is also "great" – great in every way imaginable.
The Greek word for "great" has to be John's favorite adjective. It appears 82 times in 75 verses in the Revelation. And, in Revelation 16 the word appears 9 times: great voice (16:1,17), great heat (16:9), great river (16:12), great day (16:14), great city (16:19), great hail (16:21), and great earthquake (16:18)(2X).
Sandwiched between the two uses of "great earthquake" is the statement that "No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth" (Rev 16:18). The earthquake is unprecedented in size, quantity, degree, status, and duration. It really is a "great" earthquake.
How "great" is the earthquake? Notice what happens: "The great city split into three parts ..." (Rev 16:19).
B The second thing we are told about God's judging activity is that it is like a hail storm.
(Rev 16:21) From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men.Does this sound familiar? It should. It duplicates the seventh plague on Egypt – in which death-inflicting hailstones fell on man and beast alike. Scripture tells us, "It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation" (Ex 9:24). The hailstorm was unprecedented in size, quantity, degree, status, and duration. We see something similar in the book of Joshua. The five kings of the Amorites joined forces against Joshua and Israel. The Lord threw the Amorites into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. So, the Amorites fled.
(Josh 10:11) As they fled before Israel ... the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
We see something similar in the Revelation. Big hailstones. One hundred pound hailstones. Hailstones that kill. Hailstones that destroy. Hail is frightening. I have seen acres of crops destroyed. I have seen cars and steel roofs covered with dents and peeling paint. I have seen broken windows. Any of John's audience who were Jewish would relate to this right away. When Rome attacked and eventually destroyed Jerusalem in AD 66, they used catapults to launch boulders against the city. Josephus, the historian, tells us the boulders were white like hail and one hundred pounds in weight. Imagine hail-like rocks raining down upon you – destroying walls, roofs, trees, gardens, gates, and people. But here, the One Who launches the attack is none other than God Himself.
C What else are we told about God's judgment? Listen to what John says: "Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found" (Rev 16:19-20). We see the same thing in Revelation 20:
(Rev 20:11) Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.
Flying islands, disappearing mountains, fleeing earth and sky? What is this? This is apocalyptic literature. It is not meant to be taken literally. So what does this mean? What is going on here? The islands, mountains, earth, and sky are all fleeing from the coming of the Lord. Why? Because they, with all of creation, are stained by human sin and its toxic waste. As such, they lie under the judgment of God. All of the old creation lies under the curse of God. So, all must go. When God returns, there is no place for anything stained by sin. So, the old sin-stained creation flees away in fear with the coming of the holy God in judgment.
But, however, the removal of the old makes room for what? It makes room for the new, the new creation, the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1; cf Is 65:17), the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:10-13). The coming of the new requires the elimination of the old.
Permit me an observation about what is going on with the pouring out of the seven bowls of God's wrath. What we see is a decreation. What we see is an undoing of what God did or made in the first seven days of history. Take at look at all that happens:
-the sea and the fresh waters are turned into blood and are no longer able to sustain life
-the sun burns and scorches people with fire instead of providing life-sustaining light and warmth
-the kingdom of the beast is plunged into darkness
-the river Euphrates dries up
-the atmosphere in which man lives and breathes attacks with lightning, rumblings, thunder, and earthquake
The very creation itself is falling apart. It is coming apart at the seams. It is splitting wide open.
Which reminds me, why does the sun shine upon us every morning? From where does the rain come? Why do we have trees that pour oxygen into the atmosphere? Listen to what Jesus Himself says:
(Mt 5:45) He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.We talk here of God's common grace. The creation is able to sustain and nurture life because of God's common grace which is poured out on the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. If you are not a Christian, don't ever say God has never shown any interest in you. God's common grace shows His interest and His care. He has not once neglected you. But, but, there will come a day when all of these blessings will stop. The creation God uses to sustain us, will begin to turn on us.
D The last thing we can say about God's judgment concerns the target. The target is clearly identified as "the great city," "Babylon the Great." Now, remember, place names in the Revelation – like so much else – are not to be taken literally. What is important is not the geography but the symbolism. Babylon, as I already said, is one of the enemies of God, Christ, and the Gospel. Babylon attacks God by attacking God's people. Babylon is not a specific city or civilization. During the time of John, Babylon was identified with Rome; but Babylon is far more and far greater than Rome. In the thirties and forties, Babylon was identified with Nazism and Fascism; but Babylon is far more and far greater than the Nazis and Fascists. In the sixties and seventies, Babylon was identified with various communist regimes; but Babylon is far more and far greater than Communism.
What is Babylon? What does Babylon symbolize? Babylon represents the entire worldly realm – political, economic, military, religious, social, educational, scientific – in opposition to God and Christ and the Gospel. In other words, it represents the totality of human culture in opposition to God and Christ and the Gospel.
So, what are we being told? We are being told that some day Babylon will be destroyed. Some day, human culture – in its opposition to God and Christ and the Gospel – will be destroyed. It will be destroyed. Making room for what? You know! Making room for the New Jerusalem, the city of God, the home of righteousness.
Finally, I want you to notice the response to God's judgment. Now, remember, there is lightning, rumblings, thunder, earthquake, huge hailstones, flying islands, and hiding mountains. Babylon is destroyed. The creation unravels. What is the response?
Do the ungodly surrender? Give up? Submit? Repent? Believe? That is what you would expect. That is what God wants (2 Pet 3:9). But what do we read for the third time in Revelation 16? We read that they "cursed God" (Rev 16:21; cf Rev 16:9,11). But this time they cursed God with a difference. The previous two times, John tells us they cursed God and "refused to repent." Nothing is said about repentance this third time. Why not? Because the time has run out. God's patience has ended. The final judgment has come.
I don't know if you are a Christian. But if you aren't, if you have not repented of your sin and believed in the Lord Jesus, I warn you to do so before it is too late.
And, if you are a Christian, take comfort from the fact that one day God will judge Babylon. One day, God will judge Babylon and set right the suffering from the unjust actions of sinful people. One day, God will destroy the old to make room for the new, the home of righteousness.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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