Revelation 16

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs.

Revelation 16

The seven bowls of God’s wrath
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’

2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;
6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’

7 And I heard the altar respond:

‘Yes, Lord God Almighty,
true and just are your judgments.’

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

15 ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.’

16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

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!’ 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about forty kilograms fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.


A quick word about the mark of the beast before we get to all the bowls of wrath.

We looked at the beast in chapter 13, but as a reminder, the whole book of Revelation comes down to a question of our allegiance - do we follow and worship the Lamb, or do we follow and worship another god. This is quite a good summary of what John has been saying in the last few chapters - are you going to resist Babylon and follow the Lamb, or follow the Beast and suffer defeat?

The Old Testament understanding of worshipping God is that we become like what we worship.

Psalm 115 says:

But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Ps 115.4–8)

In other words, whatever we worship, we buy into and are shaped by. By being shaped by it, our allegiance to it will be made visible to those around us. The mark of the beast isn’t a secret sign that we receive - it’s a choice - we can choose to receive the mark of the beast or the seal of God and live our lives accordingly.

Now, to the bowls of wrath.

These bowls again mirror the plagues sent upon Egypt in Exodus. As we have seen from the Lamb’s scroll and the signs and visions, many among the nations do repent, but as the bowls are poured out many do not. They resist and curse God just like Pharaoh. At the sixth bowl, the dragon and the beast gather all the nations for a battle against God’s people at a place called Armageddon (16). Armageddon refers to a plain in Northern Israel where many battles were fought against invading nations. This is likely, therefore, to be a metaphor for God’s final justice on evil. This is then made complete with the seventh and final bowl where evil is extinguished from the nations (17-21).

Many Christians have wrestled with the wrath of God and would prefer to do without it, and unsurprisingly with what we have just read. And it’s not easy to do this topic justice in a short devotional. But I’ll start by reminding us that these are deeply symbolic images we read about and that the first hearers would have connected this to God’s goodness. To a persecuted group of Christians in the Roman Empire, it is good news to hear that God will step in and respond to every system that causes injustice and suffering.

Let me put it this way: if God can look at racism and the dehumanisation of half the human race and not hate it - he is not a good God. If God can look at homophobia or transphobia and not hate it - he is not a good God. And if God does not do something about the systems that propagate these evils and injustices he is not a good or loving God.

Let’s give thanks to our God who will have the final word on all evil and injustice. And let us praise him for his unending mercy and accept his offer of repentance and turn to him with lives of goodness and love.

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