Added Details: The Judgment of the Gentiles
Revelation 15 – 16
Revelation 15 – 16
Revelation 15 – 16. In the Book of Revelation, the Spirit of God goes over parts of the prophetic week three or four times. In each section, there is a different focus, but all end with the appearing of Christ.
- Ch. 6-11 – covers the full seven years, focusing on the Beast’s empire (seal and trumpet judgments).
- Ch. 12-14 – covers the last 3.5 years, focusing on Israel (added details of prophecy).
- Ch. 15-16 – covers the last 3.5 years, focusing on the Gentile nations at large (bowl judgments).
- Ch. 17-19 – covers the middle and end of the week, focusing on the judgement of religious and political Babylon.
Ch. 20-22 cover events after the prophetic week.
It is helpful to see that the bowl judgments are on the Gentile nations at large, not limited to the Beast’s empire. They are poured out on the prophetic earth, but the effects go beyond the Christianized part of the world to touch the outlying nations. Note the absence of the expression “the third part”. The bowl series is more universal. For example, you could design a bomb to drop on New York City that would only affect the City. That would be like the trumpet series. However, you could design a bomb to drop on the City that would have far reaching effects, even to reach Trenton, or Philadelphia. That is like the bowl series. The Lord is called “King of nations” in Rev. 15:3, denoting a wide sphere of influence. Note that the fifth trumpet and fifth bowl break the pattern. The fifth trumpet jumps from the revived Roman Empire to the apostate Jews, but the fifth bowl jumps from the Gentile nations to the Beast’s kingdom. Regarding the symbolic language of the bowl judgments, William Kelly said:
Further, I think the objects of these plagues, the earth, sea, etc., are not to be taken in a merely literal way. The language is symbolical. Not that there would be to my own mind the slightest difficulty in believing that God could do these things in a literal way, if this were His will. He has turned the waters of Egypt into blood, filled a kingdom with darkness, and inflicted plagues similar to what we have here: so that there is no difficulty in conceiving such a thing again. But the only question is, whether this is what we are to gather from the chapter before us. I think it is not; and that God here alludes to plagues that were once literal in the land of Egypt, but that are now referred to symbolically, representing certain judgments of God.1
- The Gentile Martyrs, Preparation for Bowls (Rev. 15)
- 1st Bowl: Moral Pain on the Followers of the Beast (16:2)
- 2nd Bowl: Apostasy of all Nations who Reject the Gospel (16:3)
- 3rd Bowl: Natural Sources of Joy are Turned to Misery (16:4-7)
- 4th Bowl: Governmental Apostasy Results in Oppression (16:8-9)
- 5th Bowl: Deep Spiritual Darkness Covers the Empire (16:10-11)
- 6th Bowl: The Kings of the East Invade the Beast’s Empire (16:12-16)
- 7th Bowl: Appearing of Christ, The Fall of the Western Powers (16:17-21)
The Gentile Martyrs, Preparation for Bowls (Rev. 15)
¶ And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and wonderful: seven angels having seven plagues, the last; for in them the fury of God is completed. v.1 The scene changes, and the focus is once again on heaven, where John sees another sign. Here we have another group of seven angels, different from those in Rev. 8:2. These angels are given “the seven last plagues” which are contained in seven vials or bowls (Rev. 16:1). These bowls are symbolic of the next series of judgments. The fact that it says “seven last plagues” causes some to take this as a hint that the seven bowls come chronologically after the trumpets. However, the verse goes on to say that they “complete” the wrath of God. It is not inconsistent with other prophetic scriptures that this series of bowl-judgments is actually going over the last three and a half years of the tribulation – the same period covered by the trumpets – giving added details which “complete” the wrath that God has for the earth. The wrath of the Lamb follows the wrath of God, beginning when the Lord Himself appears.
The Martyred Remnant (vv.2-4)
¶ 2 And I saw as a glass sea, mingled with fire, and those that had gained the victory over the beast, and over its image, and over the number of its name, standing upon the glass sea, having harps of God. v.2 John also saw a “sea of glass”, which is an allusion to the sea in Solomon’s temple, in which the priests would ceremonially wash. The sea is not water now, because there is no more need of washing in heaven. The saints in heaven have reached a fixed state of purity. Seas often represents the Gentile nations in tumultuous motion. But all is tranquil in heaven. The sea was “mingled with fire,” indicative of the fiery tribulation out of which the saints in this vision had come (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). This is a martyred portion of the remnant. Most likely these are Gentiles because the context in ch.15-16 is Gentiles. These ones got victory over the beast by giving up their lives rather than worship his image. On earth, these ones would be viewed as having been defeated by the beast, but heaven has a different evaluation of their death; i.e. victory. These saints in heaven also have “harps”, which shows that they are praising God.
3 And they sing the song of Moses bondman of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and wonderful are thy works, Lord God Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, O King of nations. 4 Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and do homage before thee; for thy righteousnesses have been made manifest. vv.3-4 The Twofold Song. The martyrs in heaven sing a two-fold song:
- The song of Moses: praising God’s works (v.3a). The theme of this song is similar to that of Israel in Exodus 15; i.e. earthly deliverance from their enemies. This is a reference to the song of Exodus 15, not of Deut. 32. The praise is for the works of “Jehovah Elohim Shaddai” (Lord God Almighty), who is God under various names as He was known in the Old Testament.
- The song of the Lamb: praising God’s ways (vv.3b-4). The subject is the exaltation of the Lord, rejoicing that He will have His rightful place in the scene of His rejection. They rejoice that the Lord is about to be worshipped by all nations.
The martyrs are incredulous that someone wouldn’t fear the Lord. The only thing that will bring about a change in the Gentiles, such that they will “come and do homage before thee”, is the manifestation of God’s righteous acts of judgment. This is one of the great lessons from Dan. 4, and also Isa. 26:9. The martyrs see through the judgment to the coming blessing. And the bowl-judgments are God’s answer to the martyrs’ song.
Preparations for the Bowl Judgments (vv.5-16:1)
¶ 5 And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of witness in the heaven was opened; 6 and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in pure bright linen, and girded about the breasts with golden girdles. vv.5-6 The seal and trumpet judgments flow from the throne of God, whereas the vials flow from the “temple” of God, showing that they are more severe, as they flow from the holy character of God (see Rev. 11:19a). The temple is opened for judgment, not for grace, and this is shown in that the seven angels come out of the temple. The clothing of the angels, “pure bright linen”, speaks of the divine righteousness in which God will judge the world. But they are “girded at the breasts” showing that natural affection (mercy) for the earth cannot be shown, because it is a matter of Divine righteousness holding in that affection; “golden girdles”.
7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls, full of the fury of God, who lives to the ages of ages. v.7 The four living creatures are the ones who give the angels the bowls. The four living creatures are always found in an administrative capacity, facilitating God’s judgments. The word “vials” in some translations, “means bowls or cups, and is taken from the vessels used for pouring out drink-offerings, etc., before the Lord.”2 A vial in the modern vernacular is actually a narrow tube, while a bowl can hold a lot of liquid. Also, it says they are “full of the fury of God”.
8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power: and no one could enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. v.8 The temple was “filled with smoke”, showing that God’s glory and power in judgment was now in full action. It specifies that “no one could enter”, which signifies that sacrifice and intercession would be of no avail. Nothing can prevent the coming storm of divine judgment. Smoke often pictures God’s offended majesty against sin (Psalm 18:8).
¶ And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God upon the earth. v.1 Next John hears “a great voice out of the temple”, and this is the voice of God Himself. God tells the seven angels to “Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God upon the earth”. These bowls are poured out upon the prophetic earth, yet we will see that their effects reach even to the the outlying nations.
Three distinct steps in preparation:
- In v.6, the angels are commissioned and equipped in the sanctuary.
- In v.7, the living creatures supply the angels with the golden bowls of God’s fury.
- In Rev. 16:1, God Himself gives the command to execute the judgment.
Correlation of trumpets and bowls. There is a high degree of correlation between the trumpets and bowls. The first of each series has to do with the earth, the second with the sea, the third with the rivers and fountains of water, and the fourth with the sun. The fifth trumpet is the delusion of apostate Jews, the fifth bowl is the delusion of the Beast’s empire. The sixth trumpet is a summary of the Assyrian’s influence on the beast’s empire, the sixth bowl gives the precise moment of the attack. The seventh in each series is the appearing of Christ. The seventh trumpet is a summary of the Day of the Lord. The seventh bowl is the specific event that will accompany his appearing, namely the destruction of Political Babylon (the Beast). Some have thought that the bowls are "under" the seventh trumpet just as the trumpets are "under" the seventh seal. However, the correlation between these bowls and trumpets would indicate that the bowls parallel the trumpets.
1st Bowl: Moral Pain on the Followers of the Beast (16:2)
¶ 2 And the first went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and there came an evil and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and those who worshipped its image. v.2 The followers of the beast are the target of the first bowl-judgment. The “earth” here might represent the organized nations; i.e. it is in contrast with “the sea” in v.2. The judgment results in a “grievous sore”, similar to the sixth Egyptian plague of blisters (Ex. 9:10-11). That was a personal plague on the Egyptians; i.e. a disgusting and loathsome disease (see Deut. 28:27, 35). The grievous sores could be taken predominantly in a moral sense here, although it may be physical as well. It is a moral sore which will cause intense mental suffering. They feel the evil they are under. Perhaps it will be the terrible affliction of a guilty conscience?3
2nd Bowl: Apostasy of all Nations who Reject the Gospel (16:3)
¶ 3 And the second poured out his bowl on the sea; and it became blood, as of a dead man; and every living soul died in the sea. v.3 In contrast with “the earth” of v.2, the target of the second bowl-judgment is the “sea”, which represents the masses of the Gentiles in a state of turmoil. The seas become blood, which also correlates to an Egyptian plague; when the Nile was turned to blood. Blood represents death, as it says; “and every living thing died”. Everyone will give up the profession of religion. It says, “as of a dead man”; all pretense of moral life is gone. Souls will either believe the gospel of the Kingdom, or they will apostatize.4
3rd Bowl: Natural Sources of Joy are Turned to Misery (16:4-7)
¶ 4 And the third poured out his bowl on the rivers, and on the fountains of waters; and they became blood. v.4 The target of the third bowl-judgment is “the rivers, and on the fountains of waters”. Rivers represent fixed channels of refreshment. Fountains are the sources of prosperity. The natural sources of joy that attend human life are all affected by the apostasy. The things that define culture become evil through and through. Life will be marked by misery and frustration.5
God’s righteousness acknowledged (vv.5-7)
5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Thou art righteous, who art and wast, the holy one, that thou hast judged so; 6 for they have poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; they are worthy. vv.5-6 We now hear the voice of a certain angel speaking to the Lord. The “angel of the waters” may be an angle that God has set to watch over the masses of mankind. This angel has seen the evil done by men down through the millennia, rejecting the prophets, rejecting the pleading of the Lord’s voice. Now these wicked men are going to get what they have got coming. The angel speaks up as a solemn witness; the Lord is righteous for executing this judgment. The Lord has seemed outwardly to slumber for a long time. But now He awakes to avenge the blood of the martyrs. There is a solemn irony to this – blood for blood – this is justice. But there is not doubt whether they deserve this; “they are worthy”. The apostates have earned their awful doom.
7 And I heard the altar saying, Yea, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments. v.7 Now the the brazen altar itself speaks to the Lord! The brazen altar represents the righteous claims of God in judgment. Earlier in ch.6 the souls of the martyrs were seen under the altar (Rev. 6:9). Now, that very altar which had witnessed the martyrs’ blood is said to cry out as a witnesses to the righteousness of God’s judgment. From the first book (Gen. 4:10) to the last book (Rev. 16:7) we hear the cry of the blood of the martyrs connected with the altar, which speaks of the righteous judgment of God. See Psalm 19:9.
4th Bowl: Governmental Apostasy Results in Oppression (16:8-9)
¶ 8 And the fourth poured out his bowl on the sun; and it was given to it to burn men with fire. 9 And the men were burnt with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and did not repent to give him glory. vv.8-9 The target of the fourth bowl-judgment is the “sun, which represents the supreme government over the Gentiles. This government has already apostatized in the fourth trumpet, but here we find what the effect of this is; oppression of men with intolerable tyranny. The oppression of men, put under pressure from the apostate governments, results in the men lashing out against God, whom they know is in control of these judgments.
5th Bowl: Deep Spiritual Darkness Covers the Empire (16:10-11)
¶ 10 And the fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast; and its kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues with distress, 11 and blasphemed the God of the heaven for their distresses and their sores, and did not repent of their works. vv.10-11 As with the seals and trumpets, it is evident that the fifth, sixth, and seventh bowls are apart from the preceding four. The judgment of the fifth bowl falls upon “the throne of the beast” and upon his kingdom. Note: it does not say upon the beast himself, who is apparently untouched by these bowls. The judgment of the personal beast is reserved for the Lord Jesus at His appearing. The kingdom becomes darkened. No doubts, the darkness originates from the abyss (see Rev. 9:2), but as a judgment it is of God. Men will become decidedly against God. There will be no more agnostics. Their hearts are hardened against God, rather than softened, and they “blasphemed the God of the heaven”. In the fourth bowl they blaspheme the name of God, here it is the God of the heaven. They know who is responsible for these judgments. But they still don’t own Him as the God of the earth.
6th Bowl: The Kings of the East Invade the Beast’s Empire (16:12-16)
¶ 12 And the sixth poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings from the rising of the sun might be prepared. v.12 The target of the sixth bowl is the “great river Euphrates”, which was the eastern border of the old Roman Empire. The Euphrates is an ancient geographical barrier, a natural separation between the west and the east. When the water of that river is dried up, the way is now opened for “the kings from the rising of the sun”. The kings of the east in Revelation are the same forces depicted under the king of the north in the book of Daniel, which sweep down through Israel. Once this barrier is removed, pictured by the river, the kings can invade. This will begin the time of Jehovah’s indignation, and there are a number of battles that take place. There are two invasions from the north east, called the first and second attacks of the Assyrian. Each attack is lead by a confederacy of nations who are really united in one great super-confederacy. The first attack is made by the king of the north and his Arab confederacy, but the second attack is made by Gog and is Russian confederacy. The Arab confederacy comes down at 1260 days from the middle of the week, and the Russian confederacy comes down (most likely) 75 days later. Perhaps the river is dried for the first attack primarily, but also for the follow-up attack.
13 And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, as frogs; 14 for they are the spirits of demons, doing signs; which go out to the kings of the whole habitable world to gather them together to the war of that great day of God the Almighty. vv.13-14 Next we are told about an influence that will unite the whole world together. It is not the gospel, but evil that will unite the world. These three, called “three unclean spirits”, are the sum of all evil influences. Note that these influences originate from the mouths of:
- The Dragon: Satan’s direct power as antagonistic of Christ
- The Beast: the power of apostate government, the Beast
- The False Prophet: the power of false religion, the Antichrist
These unclean spirits are “like frogs”, which live in the mud; i.e. loathsome creatures. They come “out of the mouth” of the false triad, showing that they are the source of these influences. The nations will not be aware that they are being gathered together to the great war, but that is God’s purpose. This confirms that Armageddon is a general collision of the kings of “the whole habitable world”. Not only are the western powers arrayed for the war, but the eastern also:
- The Beast and his Western Confederacy
- The King of the North and his Arab Confederacy
- Gog and his Atheistic Russian Confederacy
(Voice of the Lord “Behold I Come as a Thief!”) (v.15)
15 (Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments, that he may not walk naked, and that they may not see his shame.) v.15 Parenthesis. As with the seals and trumpets, there is a parenthesis between the sixth and seventh bowl. The parenthesis in each case speaks of the blessing of the faithful. The fact of the Lord’s coming “as a thief” is mentioned five times in scripture, and it always refers to the appearing (Matt. 24:43; 1 Thess. 5:2-4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; Rev. 16:15). The idea of coming as a thief involves unwanted surprise. The Lord will not come for His saints as a thief, but rather as a bridegroom. He will come upon a world morally asleep, but gathered together against God. There is a word to the believer; “blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments”. The Lord’s appearing will begin “the day of manifestation”, when those who are watchful will be given their rewards, and those who do not will be put to shame.
16 And he gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armagedon. v.16 Armageddon. Megiddo is the Hebrew form of “Armageddon”, and was a place in the Old Testament where God came forth to fight against those who raised themselves against Him (see Jud. 5:19-20; 2 Chron. 35:22; Zech. 12:11). It is the area in Israel called the valley of Jezreel, or the Plain of Esdraelon, where the Lord will first appear (Isa. 9:1-2). Armageddon is not a single battle, but a series of battles, a “war” that will be fought during the time of Jehovah’s indignation. Although the unclean spirits are at work in gathering the nations to battle, it says here “he gathered”, reminding us that ultimately it is God’s hand at work.
7th Bowl: Appearing of Christ, The Fall of the Western Powers (16:17-21)
¶ 17 And the seventh poured out his bowl on the air; and there came out a great voice from the temple of the heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. v.17 The eventual target of the seventh bowl-judgment is a “great city” (v.19), but the bowl is poured first “on the air”. Air represents the moral atmosphere of the world; i.e. the realm of Satan (Eph. 2:2). The seventh bowl is the consummation of judgment on the organised systems of evil. John hears a voice from “the temple and the throne”. This voice is uniting the series of judgments up to this points: Rev. 6-11 are judgments from “the throne” connected with creation, while Rev. 12-16 are from “the temple” connected with the holy character of God. The voice cries, “It is done”, showing that we have now reached the climax of the judgments; we have reached the very moment of the Lord’s appearing.
18 And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, such an earthquake, so great. v.18 John first observed “lightnings, and voices, and thunders”, which are symbols of the judgment of God (see Rev. 4:5; Rev. 8:5; Rev. 11:19). Second, there was a great earthquake. No doubt there will be an abundance of physical earthquakes at this time (Mark 13:8) but this is “a great earthquake”, a vast and unparalleled violent disruption of all government. This coincides with the time when the beast and antichrist will be taken and cast into the lake of fire by the Lord at His appearing. Also, at this time the angels will go out and gather the tares to be burned.
19 And the great city was divided into three parts; and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. v.19 Cities. A city called “the great city” is divided into three parts. This refers no doubt to the fall of the revived Roman empire; a “great city” compared to the nations’ cities. Also, the fact that there are three parts indicates that the Roman earth is in view, as with the trumpet judgments when “the third part of the earth” was mentioned several times. See also Rev. 17:18. The “cities of the nations” would be the other powers allied with the beast or opposed to him. All comes crashing down. Then, “great Babylon”, another city, is remembered before God to meet out the judgment she deserves. We might wonder, wasn’t Babylon already fallen (Rev. 14:8)? Chapter 17-18 will next be brought in to explain the two aspects of Babylon. The false church has already fallen (Rev. 14:8) in an organizational way, but the persons continue within the empire (Rev. 17:18) until the appearing of Christ (Rev. 18:20-24). God “remembers” to give her the cup of judgment that he had promised her. A.C. Brown called this “the most perplexing problem of the book”.
20 And every island fled, and mountains were not found; 21 and a great hail, as of a talent weight, comes down out of the heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, for the plague of it is exceeding great. vv.20-21 All earthly refuges will fail to hide men from the storm of judgment; “islands” picture commerce, or financial refuges, and “mountains” picture political powers, or governmental refuges. This is followed by a plague of hail, which reminds us of the seventh Egyptian plague. This hail represents sharp, sudden, and crushing judgment from heaven. The hailstones are said to be “a talent weight”. The Jewish talent was 125 English pounds! This may not be literal hail. But after all this direct judgment from God because of their sins, men still refuse to repent, and turn around and blaspheme God because of the plague.
- Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.
- Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.
- First, the ordered and settled parts of the world are smitten as with an ulcerous distemper, where men were branded with subjection to the apostate civil power and his idolatry. Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.
- Next, there is a judgment on the sea; that is, on the outside regions, where profession of life quite died out. Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.
- The third, I conceive, represents by rivers people formed into a separate condition of nationality, like waters flowing in a distinct channel, under special local influence; and by the fountains rather the springs of a nation’s prosperity. All the active principles assume the form of death. The third judgment comes down to smaller details than the former ones. Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.