Revelation Chapter Fifteen.
As John continues to look, the camera now spans round to focus on the heavenly perspective of the judgements on earth as chapter fifteen begins with a picture of seven angels. These angels are in heaven with seven plagues by which God’s judgement is completed. However, before we read of this judgement we hear a song of praise being sung by the church, this being a conclusion to the events of Rev 12:1-14:20.
John looks and sees a sea of glass mixed with fire and beside it those who had victory over the beast and his image and the number of his name (15:2). Scripturally speaking the sea is sometimes seen as a symbol of evil and a turbulent and seething mass depicting the unrighteous (e.g. Dan 7:2-3). Victory is taken through Christ alone over all that characterises the power of evil and even in martyrdom His church continues to grow. It could be said that the enemy often seeks to conquer through martyrdom, yet that very conquest results in conquering the enemy. Here, in Revelation, the sea that often symbolises evil is a sea of glass mixed with fire.
Fire speaks of God’s holiness and of judgement and therefore in a sea of glass mixed with fire we have a picture of evil removed through judgement. The fact that the saints are also mentioned shows that they were involved in the defeat of evil with the light of their testimony not being quenched by the ‘water’ of the dragon (Rev 12:15-16). This then is why we read that they have victory over the number of his name. Remember that 666 (Rev 13:8) points to the failure of man in all areas since six is the ‘less than seven’ number which symbolises perfection. In both the sixth seal (Rev 6:12f) and the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:13-19) we see that judgement will fall on the imperfect and rebellious ways of man along with the forces of darkness.
The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Rev 15:3)
God conquers the work of the dragon and a victory song is sung in heaven and in looking back to Psalm 74:13-14 we find a similar language of victory being used to describe the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus prophetically looked forward to the second Exodus through Jesus where all who bow the knee to the Messiah are taken from darkness and welcomed into the Kingdom of God. The fruit of the final exodus from sin and suffering is seen in saints standing before a tamed and judged sea.
In light of this we see how the singing of the song of Moses and the Lamb speaks of God’s complete triumph over all who oppose Him and all who sought to place others under their own illegitimate rule. God judges evil and reveals His superiority over all that has ever raised or will raise its head against Him. He is the Holy One who brings His people to His holy dwelling (Ex 15:13; Col 3:14-15, Rev 5:12).
In the song that is sung God is spoken of as the King of the ages whose ways are always just and true. We then read that glory will come to His name because His righteous acts have been revealed (Rev 15:4). So what is God’s glory?
“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle?”
Figuratively speaking the word ‘glory’ carries the idea of weight in the sense of being valuable and precious and, concerning people, can point to what a person is like. By way of illustration, think of a house that someone renovates and then gives, free of charge, to a homeless family. The selfless act of giving time, money and energy in order to provide for another is, in a sense, the ‘glory’ of the giver in that it points to what the person who renovated the house is like. Scripture is an amazing story, a story about what God is like and how He reaches out to man.
(Scripture) “… The stories are about God and the ways of God with the people of God; they show us how God characteristically relates to people like us. They encourage and challenge us not by giving us a clearer picture of what we should or should not be but by giving us a clearer picture of who God is. The stories in Genesis, for instance, focus more on the way God deals with Abraham and Sarah than on the way Abraham and Sarah relate to God. Their emphasis is on God’s purpose, God’s promise, God’s initiative, God’s blessing, and God’s covenant undertaking.”
Prof J. Goldingay, in ‘Models For Interpretation of Scripture’, page 58.
God’s glory speaks of what He is like as seen in His acts of power (1 Cor 6:14), grace (2 Thess 2:16) and mercy (Ps 116:1, Eph 2:4) in a world that deserves nothing but condemnation (Rom 3:23). All that God does carries weight and substance and is of great value and worth. God is the One who personally takes us out of the mud and mire and places us in the cleft of the rock of His salvation (Ps 40:2, 1 Cor 10:3-4). In Jesus we find safety, security, forgiveness, love and the power to live a renewed life.
“(Jesus) …you are amazed that He is incomparably better than you could have expected. He is tender without being weak, strong without being coarse, lowly without being servile. He has conviction without intolerance, enthusiasm without fanaticism, holiness without Pharisaism, passion without prejudice…..His life alone moved on those high levels where local limitations are transcended and the absolute law of moral purity prevails.”
Dr John Watson in, ‘Mind of the Master’ p 82.
Most of the language in Rev 15:4 relates to Psalm 86:9-10 where we read, “All nations that you have made will come and worship before you, O LORD, and they will glorify your name because you are great and you do marvellous things; you alone are God.” Through the way that God works in space and time all nations will eventually glorify his name, whether Syria or America, Russia or Israel and as Paul writes in Rom 14:11:
“It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'"
God’s righteous acts.
The words John uses in verse 4 (your righteous acts have been revealed) can also be found in Psalm 98 and speak of the glory of the Redeemer (Ps 98:1-3). In many of the Psalms salvation and righteousness are linked in that God’s righteousness is His salvation-creating activity in space and time (His activity in the world). This also involves judgement on the wicked as is seen throughout Revelation.
In the fullness of time the clearest demonstration of God’s salvation-creating activity was seen in the arrival of the One later spoken of as, “The Righteous One, the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world” (1 John 2:1). Righteousness speaks of walking a straight path and can be linked with a picture behind the word Torah which is that of a Father pointing out the right way for a son or daughter to live. We are called to look to Him and place our trust in the teaching and guidance of our heavenly Father.
“Faith is a thing of the mind. If you do not believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will flounder on the high seas of purposelessness, drowning in the currents and drifting further into nothingness.”
Ravi Zacharias in, ‘The Grand Weaver’, page 43
As our creator (Gen 1:1; John 1:1) God holds the blueprint concerning how life should be lived and therefore knows exactly what has gone wrong and how to restore this broken relationship; how to make us fully human. Righteousness speaks about right relationships and in order to see just what this relationship is meant to look like we only need to look at Jesus. However, we need to be careful where we look first because so often we can be drawn to looking at the fruit of His ministry and not the root from which he did all things.
In Jesus we have the first fully human being since Adam and as the Second Adam He perfectly fulfilled God’s law of love (Luke 10:27). In doing so we see, for the first time, what a relationship with our heavenly Father should really be like. From this we see that righteousness is about relationships, about living according to God’s standard, He being the One who created this world (Gen 1:1; John 1:1) and who placed us in it (Gen 1:27-8; Gen 2:7). In His righteousness God continues to reach out to people as He encourages us to place our trust in Him (Prov 3:5-6). In placing out trust in Him we begin to find our true identity, we begin to find out just who we really are.
“At the end of World War 2, there were more than fifty men who came out of prison camps in Indochina suffering from amnesia. They couldn’t remember who they were and there were no records to help identify them. Then someone came up with the idea to run their photographs in a Parisian newspaper and announce that these men would make an appearance on the stage of the city’s opera House. The plea went out that if anyone thought they might know any of these soldiers, they should come to the Opera House and make the identification.
According to the story, on the appointed evening, the first of the soldiers marched onto the stage and looked out over the audience. As the spotlight focused on him, he asked, “Does anybody out there know who I am?”
What a question! How often do people ask it quietly to themselves? The only way to answer the question is to come to your Maker. For only your Maker knows who you are and what your life is supposed to be about. God knows because, as your maker, God knows who you were designed to be.”
Tony Campolo in, ‘Let me tell you a story,’ page 183.
Jesus’ relationship with His Father.
Jesus knew His father intimately (Luke 10:22; John 10:15) and as the incarnate son of God was anointed by the Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17), filled with the fullness of the Spirit (John 3:34) and led by the Spirit (Mat 4:1). Jesus always remained in His Father’s love (John 15:10) and His food was to do His Father’s work (John 4:34).
Jesus spoke and taught by the Spirit (Luke 4:18), and cast out demons by the Spirit (Mat 12:28). He healed the sick by the Spirit (Mat 12:28; 8:16), and was offered on Calvary by the Spirit (Heb 9:14). Jesus was resurrected by the Spirit (Romans 8:11) and gave commandments by the Spirit (Acts 2:11). He baptised and empowered His Church by the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8), and directs and governs His church by the Spirit (Rev 1:2-3).
From all of this we see that the root and source of all Jesus said and did was His relationship with His Father (John 5:17-19; 14:10). At all times and in all ways Jesus lived a life of love, grace, mercy and compassion, He truly being the Righteous One.
“God is not only righteous because he prefers good or even because he punishes evil. He is essentially righteous because he comes to the aid of those who are suffering, who have no hope if he does not deliver them. God’s righteousness cannot be separated from his saving activity. Thus when Israel speaks of God’s righteousness being revealed, he means that God is about to act to save his people.”
T. Holland in, ‘Contours of Pauline Theology’, page 158.
In John 15:4 the song of Moses and the Lamb – the victory song of the redeemed, proclaims the goodness of God, the covenant keeper, as He continues to reach into what is in many respects an outside-covenant world. As believers we stand in the righteousness of Christ (Phil 3:9), whilst all who do not bow the knee will face judgement as Revelation clearly reveals because God is righteous in all that He says and does.
After hearing praises to God John looks and sees in heaven that the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, was opened (Rev 15:5). As has been said before, the word ‘Temple’ means ‘palace of God’, with ‘tabernacle’ meaning ‘dwelling place,’ and being a word which comes from the root ‘to entwine.’ The One who brings judgement on this world is not an outsider or a distant authority who knows little or nothing about the heart of man and the world we live in. He has walked with man, suffered at the hands of man and has continually reached out to mankind. Yet, as John writes elsewhere (e.g. John 3:18), those who reject the offer of life in Christ face the consequences of outside-covenant living.
The earthly tabernacle was a shadow of the heavenly reality (Heb 8:5) and spoke of grace, mercy, holiness and judgement. In it was the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments, with man being allowed to approach God through animal sacrifice which provided temporary remission of sin and pointed forward to the Messiah: God’s greatest provision.
In Revelation chapter eleven the Temple is spoken of figuratively pointing to the witness of God’s people (note also 1 Cor 3:16, Eph 2:21-22, Heb 3:6, 1 Pet 2:5). Here in Revelation chapter fifteen we see the root from which all earthly testimony comes – the true sanctuary of God’s presence. It is from here that judgement now comes.
Judgement continues as God comes against the rebellion and sin of man and out of the temple come seven angels clothed as priestly servants of God (Rev 15:6). The angels have the seven plagues and are given seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God. In Leviticus 26:21 a seven-fold affliction for sin is mentioned and also in Psalm 79:12 and, as here in Rev 15:6-7, it speaks of the perfect judegment of God.
As we move out of Revelation chapter fifteen we note that the final picture in the chapter gives us more details concerning the woes that have been spoken across the age (14:8-11) and which will culminate in final judgement. They do not occur after the woes mentioned in chapter fourteen, but deepen the picture that is already present and described at the end of the seals (6:13-17) and trumpets (11:15-19). Judgement has happened, is happening and will happen and, as with the plagues in Egypt and the fall of powerful Empires like Babylon and Rome, everything that man trusts in is being removed and will one day be completely removed.
Revelation Chapter Sixteen.
The camera swings into chapter sixteen and we see the wrath of God coming against the political, economic and religious systems that oppose their Creator. As we move through the visions in chapter sixteen, what we see is not so much a timeline as a clear statement; there is no neutral ground. We are either for God or against Him and none who oppose Him escape judgement.
The One who brings this judgement has walked into the place of death and in doing so, birthed nothing but life, despite being ridiculed and smashed to a cross. Now, even in the place of increasing judgement, we see man’s rebellious nature and unwillingness to turn to God, despite the myriad of opportunities that are presented.
As the picture of judgement expands, we see an intensification of what is already happening and which affects the whole world. God has been patient beyond worldly comprehension, yet judgement will fall and there will be an end to the existence of all that we call life.
At the time of the flood, God waited patiently as an Ark was built (1 Pet 3:2) with Noah being a preacher of righteousness. The word ‘patiently’ speaks of an offended party who has the legal right to exercise judgement at any given time but withholds for a season. God has been patient, desiring all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
The people who occupied the Promised Land had the fear of the Lord come upon them (Josh 2:9), whilst at other points in history Rahab finds salvation and a bedraggled prophet named Jonah marches through Nineveh (Jonah 3:2) with a message that leads a city to repentance. Elsewhere in history powerful kings such as the Pharaoh of the Exodus and the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar are brought to their knees. In various forms and diverse ways, judgement has always been present and points to the perfect One who will one day call all people to account.
Final judgement will fall, yet this judgement is not from the hand of One who does not know what is going on, as if suddenly he had to rush in to battle in order to quell an unexpected uprising with little more than a second thought. Nothing could be further from the truth because this judgement comes from the one who has stooped low and entered humanity - who has given His very best so that we might live, and who exercises grace and mercy throughout history. There has been a beginning to this world and there will be an end, yet this end will also be a new beginning. An end will come, suffering will be no more and life as it was always meant to have been lived, will triumph (John 6:51, 10:10, Rom 8:22) through the hand of the Righteous One (1 John 2:1) who continues to reach out to people in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.
A few years ago, God prompted me to give a book that I owned to a man serving with London City Mission. The book was the last one of a private publication that contrasted Islam and Christianity and I had already given out eight to ten books of the hard-to-find publication. I did not know the author and needed many more copies for the work I was involved in, but wanted to bless someone else as I had been blessed. I heard of a man working amongst a similar people group and ended up giving away my last book to someone I had never met before. To my great surprise I found that this man knew the author of the book I was giving to him.
What I did not know at that time was that giving away this last book would be the beginning of a journey to finding and meeting the author, receiving 1,000 free copies, working with him on other books and re-writing the first book (with his blessing) after his death. This involved a lot of late-night work which included adding chapters on subjects like the Deity of Christ and the Trinity. The new book was then taken by a publisher and distributed across the world.
A few years later I received a phone call from my publisher who told me about a religious man who had gone into a Christian bookshop in Australia to find a book contrasting Islam and Christianity with the purpose of leaving his upbringing as a Catholic and becoming a Muslim. He read the book my friend and I had written and went back into the shop the following week saying that he now realised his need of being born again.
God reaches out in amazing ways and the power and glory of God is often seen in remarkable ways when we seek to put Him first as was the case in giving away a book on one side of the world which eventually led to someone being born-again on the other side of the world.
God offers life through the death and resurrection of His own Son and all manner of unusual and undeserving people have found forgiveness and come home to their heavenly Father through Jesus. God is love (1 John 4:8) yet there is no such place as middle ground when it comes to the things of God; there is no place of neutrality. A man or woman either stands with God through Christ, as a child standing with their father in safety and security, or they stand against God in the so-called ‘glory’ of an existence which we will be called to account and which leads to a lost eternity. Being religious may acknowledge the existence of God, but without entering into a relationship with God through Christ it is of no use whatsoever when it comes to eternal matters.
“…..Every visitation of divine judgement in the course of history is a foretaste and a forewarning of final judgement to come. By his sinful ungodliness man invites judgement upon himself. Hence the warning given to the Israelites: “If you walk contrary to me and will not hearken to me, I will ring more plagues upon you, sevenfold as many as your sins” (Lev 26:21).”
P.E. Hughes in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ pages 172-173
In a turbulent and difficult world our greatest need is to know God through His word and the experience of His presence by the Holy Spirit. One man who learnt the importance of knowing the presence of God in all situations is Chris Plekenpol.
Chris Plekenpol was an officer in the American Army who lost many friends during the troubles in the Middle East. Writing about the importance of the presence of God at all times, he once said…
“God created this perfect order of things, and when our sin entered, it became a place of terror. Sin unchecked is a terrible thing. God exists in those moments to show us how desperately we need him, how he can redeem us, change us, give us new life. In combat you see that. There are places in life where God is an afterthought. You are driving down the road and life is pretty much all worked out, but in battle God is so much more real. …I always come back to this one thought, life is short. It’s so urgent. I have this need to share the hope of Jesus with people who have no clue, who are still enemies of God. I want them to know that God took the hit for them. He has this irrational love for us, I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense to think that the Son of God would come down out of heaven and die a criminal’s death for people that hate him. But he did it. He died for our enemies.”
‘I Am Second’, Ed: D. Bender and D Sterrett, pages 159-160.
A voice sounds from the temple and the angels with the bowls of wrath move out to bring judgement on a rebellious earth.
The first angel pours out his bowl and painful sores break out on those who have the mark of the beast and who worship his image. The painful sores remind us of the sixth plague in Exodus 9:10-11 where we read of the magicians being so covered in boils that they could not stand before Moses. Their own goddess, Sekhmet, was supposed to be in control of sickness (with Isis being the goddess of healing) and yet, in the plague, we see where power really resides as God strikes another blow on all that Egypt trusts in.
In Revelation, the sores spoken of are not literal sores, as indeed the words of Isaiah to a rebellious nation many centuries before were not literal but conveyed a truth. Through Isaiah, God likens a nation to a wounded and bruised person who needs to understand what is going on and who needs to turn to God. Isaiah wrote, “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and bruises and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.” (Is 1:5-6).
Here in Revelation, it is those who trust in the beast that are afflicted, clearly revealing that all man trusts in which is outside of God is ultimately destructive and will come under judgement. The pain and suffering is the reaping of a harvest already sown by those who persist in their sinful ways, a way that ultimately leads to the second death, the final harvest of sin that is now judged.
A picture behind the word sin is the fire that destroys the name, pointing out that sin destroys the nature and character of the very people who are caught up in it. One of the subtleties of sin is that it is often not recognised as sin by a people who measure life by their own experiences and ultimately will be called to account. This is why, as already mentioned in Isaiah 1:5-8, we find God reasoning with his wayward people by pointing out that they seemed to want to continue to be beaten and injured. God effectively says, “Can’t you see that you don’t get away with anything? Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire. Your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you and laid waste as when overthrown by strangers”
Today we live in a world where there are more wars, slavery, broken families and prescribed drugs than ever before, clearly indicating that something is wrong. We live in the ‘almost anything goes’ society of the twenty-first century that is supposed to bring freedom and blessing, yet, on a world-wide scale brings little more than increased bondage and suffering. However, fallen man still persists in living with his own blueprint to life and so often acts like a person who thinks he knows best, even though everything around him is crumbling. In looking at Revelation, there are those who would shout, “It is unfair of God to inflict so much judgement, but in doing so, they forget that Jesus is the Perfect One who took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He is the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, standing in the place of punishment so that we could come into a place of peace and reconciliation with God (Isaiah 53). God really has done everything possible in order to make a way for us to come out of condemnation and into reconciliation. If we refuse all that God has done to save us, then all that remains is judgement and a reaping of our own harvest.
The second angel pours out a bowl (Rev 16:4) and everything in the sea dies with waters turning to blood, this being reminiscent of the first plague in Egypt (Ex 7:19-20). In Egypt, at the time of the Exodus, the river Nile was the source of much of Egypt’s wealth with floodwaters leaving dark, rich silt on the soil each year. Egyptian taxation systems were based on the flooding of the Nile, which meant that in a good year the taxation went up, whilst in a bad year it went down. The Egyptian male-god, Hapti, was regarded as the god of the Nile and was especially worshipped in spring time, since it was supposedly he who controlled the alluvial deposits and the waters that made the land fertile and guaranteed the harvest.
In Revelation, we previously noted that the sea was a major trade route and a source of income for Rome. As history reveals, this would all dry up as the Empire fell, this also being the history of all empires before and all that would come after. God will bring judgement on man’s arrogance, self-sufficiency and inhumanity to fellow man.
The third angel then pours out his bowl and all the rivers and springs turn to blood. An angel states that these judgements are just, as fallen man has continually shed the blood of the saints and prophets. The altar, referring to the souls of martyrs under the altar, then replies, “Yes Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgements.” All that God does is fair and is in total accordance with His righteousness.
The fourth angel then pours out his bowl and the sun is given power to scorch people, yet they cursed the name of God and did not repent. This is outside-covenant, the complete opposite of how God looks after His people as mentioned in Psalm 121:5-6 where we read, “The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” We live in a world where the pressures in the societies we have created often bring about great stress and suffering – almost like a labourer working in the fields with no shade from the midday sun. We go about our business as if nothing is wrong, yet all will eventually fade away (James 1:11).
The fifth bowl is then poured out on the beast whose kingdom is plunged into darkness. This darkness reminds us of the ninth plague before the death of the firstborn in the lead up to the Exodus (Ex 10:21f) and was a darkness that could be felt. The ‘light’ that we so often live by is darkness compared to the Kingdom of God. Figuratively speaking, darkness is used to speak of ignorance and spiritual blindness (Is 9:2; John 1:5).
In the lead up to the Exodus, God reaches into Egypt and systematically removes all that Egypt places her trust in and uses as a means to control others. He also makes a clear distinction between those who are in the Covenant with the Lord and those who are not.
In moving through extraordinary means in this way, rather than just ‘flicking His fingers’, God delivers Egypt in a way that gives all people the opportunity to turn to Him. Another place where we see this opportunity (even at a time of immanent judgement) is when God placed ‘fear and terror’ upon the land that Israel was to enter (Deut 2:25). This fear and terror was one of the reasons that Rahab was able to turn to the Lord (Joshua 2:9).
Here in Revelation we also see that even in judgement, there is the opportunity to repent (as was the case concerning Nineveh in Jonah’s day). If this were not so then we would not read (16:9 and 11) that people still refused to repent because there would have been no opportunity in the first place.
The ‘cursing of heaven’ mentioned in Rev 16:11 is something that many of us hear from those who deny the existence of God, yet paradoxically blame God for all that goes wrong on the basis that if they were God, they would have done things differently. This is not so far removed from the prodigal son who believed he had a better way of using his father’s resources than his father did.
The camera continues to whirr and the sixth angel pours out a bowl on the Euphrates and the river dries up to prepare the way for the kings of the East (Rev 16:12). In the past, God had parted the Red Sea as He led His people out from Egyptian bondage and away from the military power of the nation (Ex 14:21-22). Decades later, when priests took a step of faith and their feet touched the water’s edge of the swollen river Jordan (Josh 3:13), it parted for them and they entered into the Promised Land.
Here, in Revelation sixteen, the unheard of is spoken about – the River Euphrates dries up, allowing the enemy to enter the arena. In Asia Minor, people would have realised that this enemy, the ‘kings of the north’, referred to the might and power of the Parthian Empire. In this we see that God will, at times, use the enemy to bring about judgement on the world and, in this sense, there have always been periods of judgement. Judgement continues to a varying degree and one day there will be an end to all things as they stand (Rom 14:11). The river drying up as and when God says, reveals His total control over all things; at no time is the enemy completely free to do as it pleases.
Three evil spirits.
Three evil spirits which look like frogs are then seen coming from the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. The dragon is the one who directly opposed God. The beast speaks of the lawlessness of man and dictatorships, and democracies that ignore God with the false prophet speaking of false religion.
In Exodus 8:5-7 we read of a plague of frogs being used to dominate Egypt, showing the nation that what they worship (in this case frogs) ultimately destroys. To the Egyptians, the frog represented fruitfulness, fertility and blessing, as after the flood waters of the Nile receded there were pools of water in which frogs spawned. The presence of frogs showed that everything was working according to plan (the silt of the Nile was feeding the land) and so the frog became a fertility symbol. The frog goddess was called Heqt (the body of a woman and the head of a frog), who symbolised resurrection and was supposed to aid women in childbirth.
Here in Revelation chapter sixteen, the frogs speak of the demonic forces behind ‘life’ and they perform miraculous signs as they gather troops for battle.
“Here literal frogs are not in view, but three unclean spirits that are like frogs come forth from the mouth of the unholy trinity. Frogs that came out of other creatures’ mouths were seen as an evil omen (Apuleius, Metam 9.34) Plutarch even says that Nero was reincarnated as a frog so he could continue his singing (divine Vengeance 32)"
Ben Witherington 3rd in, ‘Revelation’ page 209.
Moving on, we then read of the gathering of the nations influenced by the supernatural power of darkness working through the miraculous as well as everyday means as it sees fit.
In the Old Testament, the gathering of nations for judgement is language used by the prophets (e.g. Joel 3:2). Here in Rev 16:14, the power of God is seen in that the forces of evil are compelled to do God’s work, to show their hand so to speak, and are ultimately heading for judgement and destruction.
“Paradoxically, the action of God in removing the barrier to invasion (16:12) appears to make the task of his enemies easier, just as it often appears that the world is not under God’s control. But it is all by God’s will, for the battle to follow is described as being “on the great day of God the Almighty” (16:14) and the words of encouragement in the hour of darkness (16:15) are clearly those of Jesus himself (cf Mat 24:43-44).”
John Richardson in, ‘Revelation Unwrapped’ page53.
In Rev 16:14, we read of John then hearing words that break into the picture of judgement like a breath of fresh air entering a stagnant room:
"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed."
In the Ancient Near East, guards would sometimes sleep naked during the night shift due to the heat. God challenges His church not to be caught off guard as would a person seen running naked down the street after a thief. We are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27) and are to seek God at all times so that through Him, we continue to stand no matter the day or season (Eph 6:11; James 5:8).
In 1 Thess 5:2, we read of the Day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night, underlying that it will be unexpected; we may know the season but cannot work out the day. We are called to live our lives as those clothed in the work of Jesus (Rom 13:14), putting on the new self (Eph 4:21) and being renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator (Col 3:10). If we spend too much time looking at what is going on around us, we lose our focus on the Lord. We become like the guards in the Ancient Near East who, like many in a hot climate, take off their clothes and sleep naked and are then caught out when trouble arises. The blessing is to stay rooted in our relationship with God and not in the plans that we formulate about what is going to happen and when it is going to happen in an increasingly struggling world.
In the voice of the Lord amidst the outpouring of the angel’s bowls, we have encouragement to keep our focus on the Author of life. Our heavenly Father (Ps 68:5) loves us and seeks to make us His (Eph 2:10). As a father encourages a young child to develop new skills, our heavenly Father encourages us to become all that we can be (1 Peter 1:15; 2 Pet 1:3), as His sons and daughters. He will never leave us nor forsake us and no matter what we go through, we can grow in His grace. However this will not happen if we have just an intellectual knowledge of God, because a relationship requires a response that is more than intellectual assent. The power and authority to live as sons and daughters comes as we yield our lives to the leading and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. In all situations and in all ways, God wants to encourage us and as one person once said, “When you have nothing left but God, you begin to realise that God really is enough.”
“Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).
The enemy gathers the nations for its own purposes, yet behind all this is a much greater power which allows or brings about events for His purpose. As Joseph once said to brothers who had attempted to kill him and sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20).
Through the entrance of Joseph into the powerhouse of Egypt, a nation was raised up from impending doom (drought), yet generations later flexed its muscles as it sought to stand in the place of God. God then comes onto the scene and pronounces judgement as He says, “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex 9:16). As Jesus said, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mat 5:45). God allows kingdoms to rise up and man to reap the harvest of his own actions to varying degrees, yet everything that He decrees will come about.
In looking at Armageddon there is the need to remind ourselves that John is speaking about a vision which, whilst containing truth, should not be viewed as literally occurring in a physical place, as indeed, for example, Jesus did not have a physical sword coming out of His mouth (Rev 1:16).
“This is the only place known where this name ‘Armageddon’ occurs, and because of the literary character of the Apocalypse it is almost certainly a term of symbolical significance, denoting worldwide revolt rather than a particular territorial locality.”
Dr. P.E. Hughes in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ page 178.
The word ‘Armageddon’ comes from the Hebrew words Har (mountain) and Megiddo (‘place of troops’), a city occupying a position on the southern rim of the Plain of Esdraelon (also known as Jezreel: ‘God sows’). It is situated at the crossroads of two trade routes and had been a strategic military site.
The name ‘Armageddon’ was synonymous with the defeat of Israel’s enemies through Deborah and Barak’s victory over the Canaanites, assembled under king Jabin (Judges 5:19). Barak had been summoned by the prophetess Deborah and together the enemy was destroyed. Another victory occurring in the same location was that of Gideon over the Midianites (Jud 7). Gideon’s army had numbered 32,000 against the superior numbers of the Midianite army which numbered 135,000. Yet God had reduced Gideon’s army to 300 in order to reveal that victory came from God alone and that, “Man does not live by bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3; Mat 4:4).
It is also in the area near Megiddo that Elijah comes against the prophets of Baal whom he had summoned to face Him (1 Kings 18:9-22). In the ensuing battle on Carmel, we could assume that the power of God simply smashed the power of the enemy and then ‘dragged’ a wayward people home, like a parent would a troublesome child. The truth is that it is not raw power, but the holiness, compassion, love and grace of God that triumphs in such a way that the enemy is destroyed and rebellious people are brought to their knees and raised up in new strength. In His words and actions, God destroys the lies of the accuser and sets people free as they embrace the truth (John 8:32).
In using the word ‘Armageddon’, John is speaking symbolically of the spiritual battle that is going on and will culminate in judgement on all who oppose God.
“It is clear that when John addresses his readers, he uses the literal names of the towns in which they live: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, etc. (1:11). It is also clear that he uses Hebrew names symbolically when he nicknames his opponents Balak, Balaam, and Jezebel – figures associated with idolatry in the Old testament (2:14,20)…..since John regularly uses Old Testament names in a symbolic rather than a literal sense, it seems evident that “Armageddon “ should be taken symbolically rather than literally.”
C. Koester in, ‘Revelation and the End of All Things.” Pages 152-3
The seventh angel then pours out his bowl, yet instead of reading of a battle we hear words from the Temple saying, “It is done” (Rev 16:17), as the picture moves to the final judgement. Lightning, thunder and an earthquake are released into the earth, depicting a final shaking of the world and the great city splits into three (figuratively called Sodom and Egypt: Rev 11:8).
Everything that is stable in the way of the world and looked to for security is removed as giant hailstones are pictured as raining down. Unlike the hail of judgement in Exodus 9:24, this hail crushes everything, thus referring to the very end. The fallen and rebellious nature of those outside of Christ is seen in that they continue to curse God, revealing the contents of their heart and their deliberate blame-shifting in believing that everything is God’s fault.