Read Revelation 16. The Seven Bowls of Wrath. This chapter deals with the pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath of God upon the earth and mankind. I believe if there is any one single verse in the entire Bible outside of Revelation that summarizes the message of Revelation 16, it is Romans 2:5 which says: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” I believe that to understand Revelation 16 you have to read it in the context of the whole book. You just cannot flip open your Bible to Revelation 16 and leap in there and start interpreting and understand the symbolism. You must see Revelation 16 in the context of the whole book of Revelation. I want to briefly review the first fifteen chapters of Revelation.
In chapter 1 through 3 of Revelation, we were shown, under the figure of the seven lampstands, or seven candlesticks, the surface issue, the fundamental problem of the book, which is the church struggling with sin and suffering persecution. Chapters 4 through 7 showed us, under the figure of the seven seals, the church suffering trials, but under the overruling hand of God.
Chapters 8 through 11 showed us, under the figure of the seven trumpets, the warning judgments of God against those who persecute God's people for the purpose of causing their repentance. Chapters 12 through 14 introduced us to the five enemies of God's people: the dragon, the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth, those who bear the mark of the beast, and Babylon. In chapters 15 and 16, we are seeing those who bear the mark of the beast and Babylon. In chapters 14 and 16, we are seeing those who bear the mark of the beast facing the wrath of God and, in succeeding chapters, we see the other four enemies of God destroyed and the ultimate victory of God's people.
In chapter 16, we see the seven bowls of wrath which can only be understood against the background of the seven trumpets of warning seen in chapters 8 through 11. I believe that it is only in this way that one can understand Revelation 16, because, if
you will compare the seven trumpets of warning found in chapters 8 through 11 with the seven bowls of wrath that are found in Chapter 16, you will see that in some sense they are dealing point–by–point with exactly the same thing. And here is what I mean. The first trumpet sound in Revelation 8:7 affects the earth, and when the first bowl of wrath in Revelation 16:2 is poured out it affects the earth, also.
Both the first trumpet and the first bowl affect the earth. The second trumpet in Revelation 8:8 and the second bowl in Revelation 16:3 both affect the sea. The third trumpet in Revelation 8:10 and the third bowl in Revelation 16:4 affect the inland waters. The fourth trumpet in Revelation 8:12 and the fourth bowl in Revelation 16:8 affect the sun. The fifth trumpet in Revelation 9:1–11 and the fifth bowl in Revelation 16:10–11 affect the pit of the abyss where the throne of the beast is and they bring darkness and torment. The sixth trumpet in Revelation 9:14 and the sixth bowl in Revelation 16:12 pertain to the Euphrates River, and the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15–19 and the seventh bowl in Revelation 16:17–21 produce lightnings, voices, thunders, earthquakes and great hail!
I went through that meticulously to try to say that the trumpets and the bowls are dealing with identically the same things and it is surely not just an accident that it is that way. And, therefore, I believe that we need to pay close attention to see the connection between the trumpets and the bowls and I believe when we see the connection, we will see what the whole message of Revelation 16 is. What do we see?
In chapters 8 through 11, as we looked at the trumpets, we saw the judgments of warning from God against the wicked in response to the prayers and cries of the persecuted people of God. You recall, back in Revelation 8 when the prayers of the saints ascended to the altar and incense was added to the prayers that came before God., fire was cast on the earth and we saw the wicked begin to suffer all kinds of warning judgments of God designed for the very purpose of causing them to repent. In fact, if you look at Revelation 9:20–21, as we come down to the end of the passage on the sixth trumpet of warning judgment of God, you get the impression that is precisely what this was all about because the thought is repeated, they “...did
not repent ... they did not repent.” And, the point is, God is bringing judgment against the wicked, against the oppressors of God's people to cause them to turn back to God. Time and again the wicked are afflicted and time and again they refuse to respond to the warnings of God. They continue in their evil ways and continually harden their hearts and finally, at the very end, we are told they “... did not repent ... did not repent.”
Now, when we come to Revelation 16 and the bowls of wrath are poured out, we are seeing that they are being poured out on a people that did not repent. Here are people who continually have been warned by God and continually have ignored the warnings of God and continue to harden their hearts.
Notice they have continually ignored the warnings of God and continue to harden their hearts. Notice, now, in chapter 16, the description of the people upon whom the bowls of wrath are poured. First, verse 2 says that it was upon the men who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Verse 9 says they blasphemed the name of God and they did not repent! Verse 11 says they blasphemed the God of heaven and they did not repent! Verse 21 says they blasphemed God. These are the men upon whom the bowls of wrath of God are poured. They did not repent; they did not repent. They blasphemed the God of heaven; they blasphemed God. We see a people who have heard the trumpets of warning and they would not turn to God.
Finally, the wrath of God is poured out on these people because they continually hardened their hearts. Revelation 16 is telling us that when men fail to repent and respond to the warning judgments of God, there will inevitably follow a final outpouring of the wrath of God.
We are not dealing here with things that happen at the end of time, but that which is continually happening throughout the Christian age. The warnings of God come continually against the wicked. God is not reserving His warnings for people who just happen to be born at the end of the Christian age. God is always warning people through His messengers. The warnings of God continually come to us. Sometimes they come to us through natural calamities. There are people who sometime see something of a warning judgment of God in the form of a volcano that erupts. Some are killed, and some people might
begin to think more seriously about the brevity of life. Perhaps, some will be caused to think more seriously about the fact that our life on earth will end some day. Maybe they will begin to turn God and decide that they have not been thinking as seriously and soberly about eternal realities as they should have been. But, this happens all the time. God is continually warning people and trying to turn them back to Him Warning judgments of God, then, are brought against the wicked continually. The terminal wrath of God is continually poured out on those who remain impenitent and who continue to harden their hearts. What we are trying to say is that what is being described in chapters 15 and 16 of Revelation are, as we are told in chapter 15:1, the last of the plagues.
Here is the final wrath of God being poured out on man, but that final wrath of God that is being poured out on man can occur within his own lifetime. That does not have to be something that occurs at the end of time when the final judgment occurs after Jesus comes again. In this lifetime, you can so harden your heart that you become a terminal case. I believe the Bible reveals this to us continually.
The classic case in the Old Testament, which serves as almost a background against which all else can be considered, is the case of Pharaoh. Let us go back to Exodus 7 and notice a series of verses beginning with Exodus 7:13. It says, “And Pharaoh's heart grew hard and he did not heed them.” Chapter 8, verse 15 says, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart.” Now, look at verse 19, “... But Pharaoh's heart grew hard.” Look at verse 32, “But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also.” Do you see what is happening?
Moses says, “Thus says the Lord God of the Hebrews: ‘Let My people go, that they my serve Me.’ ” Pharaoh says, “no,” and he hardens his heart. It is not something that happened only one time when there was just one great hardening and then it was all over. We are told he hardened his heart. Then, later, we are told he hardened his heart again. This means his heart was not completely hardened earlier, because you cannot harden that which is already completely hardened. So, there is a process involved here. He hardened his heart again. What is the final outgrowth of all of this?
Let us go to Exodus 9:7: “But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go.” Look at verse 12. Here is the clincher; “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” Think about that. Here was a man who had been in the process of hardening his heart. He had warning after warning, plague after plague come on Egypt and time after time after time Pharaoh ignored the warning judgments of God, until finally, in his own earthly lifetime, God stepped in and finished the process, and God hardened Pharaoh's heart.
What are we seeing in Revelation 16? The same kind of thing. We are seeing one bowl of wrath poured out, another bowl of wrath poured out, another bowl of wrath poured out, another bowl of wrath poured out. These are judgments of God.
Earlier in Revelation 8 through 11, we saw warnings of God coming first of all. God sent His warnings to try to get people to repent and they did not repent. Then, we come to chapter 16 and still they did not repent. In other words they continually said “no” to God and their hearts got harder and harder and harder and, finally, God stepped in and poured out the final judgment of wrath against them. It can happen in this lifetime.
Now, let us move to the New Testament and look at a series of passages that suggest the same thing. In Romans 1, Paul speaks about the pre–Christian Gentile world. In the whole Gentile world the same process that had occurred in the life of that individual man, Pharaoh, was happening in the Gentile world.
Notice how it is described in a series of verses in Romans 1, beginning with verse 21, it says, “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
And now, verse 24: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness in the lusts of their hearts.” Now, verses 25–26: “... who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up.”
Now, go to verse 28: “... And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over.”
What is happening here? Here are people who had a knowledge of God, but they refused to seek after God and God gave them up. They followed after the lusts of the flesh and God gave them up. They refused to have God in their knowledge. God gave them up. That is the condition of the pre–Christian gentile world. God had given them up, because they had, first of all given God up, and it can happen in this lifetime. In the course of our life here on earth, we may very well pass or cross over that line between God's patience and God's wrath. Woe to the man who has continued to so harden his heart that he passes that line in his lifetime.
Look at other references of the same kind of thought. In Matthew 12:32, Jesus said: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” In other words, in this world, before reaching the next, a person can reach a point where he can no longer be forgiven. He is dead while he is yet living. He is hopeless even in this lifetime. Look at I John 5:16, and see the same thing. “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” John is saying there are some men who have so sinned in this life that even your prayers can no longer do them any good. They have passed, they have crossed over the line. They have passed the patience of God.
Now, turn to Hebrews 6, which is the most convincing of all. Hebrews 6:4–6 says: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” The writer of the Hebrew letter says that there are people within their own lifetimes on this earth who pass that point of no return. They cross the line from the patience of God into His wrath. They have tasted the good things of the world to come, and they have rejected it and fallen away so that there comes a point where it is impossible to renew them again into repentance.
I believe the perfect comment on Revelation 15:8 is found in Hebrews 10:26 which says: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” In the imagery of Revelation 15:8, that is because the sanctuary is filled with smoke so nobody can enter until the wrath of God is poured out.
Turn now to I Timothy 4:1–2. It says: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.
Their conscience is seared. It is like taking a hot iron and putting it on your flesh and searing it so it is totally insensitive any longer to feeling. And, there are people who in their lifetime have so continually rejected the warnings of God that their conscience is so seared that they are totally insensitive to the appeals of the loving God, and it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.
There are those who are among the living dead. The same thing is told to us in II Timothy 3:1–9. There are men who are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth because they have become so evil. There is no point trying to teach them right. He says just avoid them. First keep away from them. Have nothing to do with them. They have already gone beyond the point of repentance. It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.
In Romans 1, we saw a hardened pre–Christian world and I believe, as we move toward the end of time, we will see a similar hardening in the world so that the impact of the Christian gospel in our world will be insignificant as the impact of Judaism was in the pre-Christian world.
There is a paragraph in the commentary of Burton Coffman on Revelation which, I believe, suggest to us part of the message being seen in Revelation 16. He said, “We have now seen all the bowls poured out. What do they mean? A very perceptive person suggested that they mean that a time will come when all the evil in the universe shall unite to oppose truth and righteousness, making it seem for a time that all is lost. This would certainly seem to be true; but evil shall not win; right shall prevail. God's answer to the first general hardening of mankind in Romans 1 was the First Advent of Christ; and His answer to the second and final general hardening of the human face will be the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, an event that follows very closely the pouring out of these seven bowls of wrath.”
It may very well be that in Revelation 16 we have a hint, at least, of an idea which, I think, is clearly taught in Revelation 20, as we will later see. We have already seen hints of it., incidentally, in Revelation 11 and Revelation 13. The idea is that, at the very end of time, there is going to be a condition prevailing on our earth in which the gospel of Christ will be so hindered in its progress that it will almost seem as if Satan has totally overwhelmed and conquered. But, then, as those few remaining saints on earth are crying out to God they will be delivered and be brought into the presence of God.
But, while I believe that we need to, at least, understand that that may be true, the more significant message of Revelation 16 is the message to men, who continually refuse to repent at the warning judgments of God, that finally there comes a time when God's patience can continue no longer. When man is so hardened in sin there is no hope for his salvation—may it never happen to us!
We have given you at least a background against which you can better understand the significance of Revelation 16 and a framework within which the details can be understood. I would call your attention, finally, to two small points in Revelation 16. One is verse 15, which says, “Behold I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
F.F. Bruce, in his commentary said: “According to the Mishnah, the captains of the temple in Jerusalem went their rounds of the precincts at night, and if a member of the temple police was caught asleep at his post, his clothes were taken off and burned and he was sent away naked in disgrace.” Why? Because he was not watching.
And, it may be that John was drawing from that background when he says, “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15). Jesus, as He was speaking of His second coming, said you do not know when it will be, but watch because I am coming as a thief in the night.
We need to be a people who keep about us garments of righteousness. We need robes that have been washed in the blood of
the Lamb and that are maintained pure and clean. Then, no matter when the Lord comes again, He will find us watching. He will find us faithful that we might be granted, therefore, the inheritance of the crown of life.
It is the very next verse after that that everybody wants to hear about, but about which I am going to say practically nothing. It is verse 16: “And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” It seems there is an awesome fascination concerning Armageddon in our world. Mention Armageddon and people will get their Bibles out and start trying to figure out where it is and when it is going to happen, this great battle that so many see as occurring at the end of time.
Actually, I think it has nothing to do with any kind of battle that is going to take place between armies. Revelation is not concerned about that kind of warfare. It is concerned about spiritual warfare. Where is Armageddon? Well, it seems to be the place of the final struggle between the powers of evil and the kingdom of God. But where does the final struggle between the powers of evil and the kingdom of God take place? Is it not in the hearts of men? Is that not where the real battle is?
Throughout scripture, we are told that our wrestling is not against flesh and blood. Our wrestling is against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, against the world rulers of this darkness. It is a struggle to overcome the temptations of Satan and to vigorously pursue the evangelistic nature of the work of God's kingdom. It is to lead men into the kingdom of God and preserve their souls for Christ. That is where the great battle is fought and we need daily to be watching and ready and prepared and active in the service of God so that whenever He comes, we will be prepared for Him.
It does not matter whether there are masses of armies in the Middle East or anywhere else. That has nothing to do with the book of Revelation. The great issue of life is whether your allegiance is to Jesus or your allegiance is to Satan. That is the issue.
The cry of Jesus is, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to
him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). And he is saying to us that the issue of life is whether you will open the door to Him. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The issue is whether you will come to Jesus for the rest that He offers you. The issue of life is whether Jesus is Lord, or someone or something else is Lord. The issue of life is what will you do with Jesus. What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He? When these issues are decided in your life, then you will be prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ and you will be prepared to hear these words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” These are the great issues of Revelation.