THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 29
THE SEVEN VIALS
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth." So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died. Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: "You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, Because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due." And I heard another from the altar saying, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments." Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds. Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. "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." And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon. (Rev 16:1-16 NKJV)
Although I have said this frequently, it bears repetition. The book of Revelation contains Christ's message to the churches. With great solemnity, everyone who has "an ear" is admonished to "hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Among other things, this confirms the relevancy of the message. This is not a novel story, a mere recording of history in advance, or a mystery that we are incapable of understanding. The message is critical to all saints of all ages. While John sent it to "the seven churches which are in Asia," it is not confined to them.
A UNIVERSAL MESSAGE
The message begins with an affirmation of the control of the exalted Lamb (Chapter 5). It unveils the aggression of the devil against the people of God (Chapter 12). The overthrow of the devil is heralded, together with all of his devices (20:10). The triumph of the righteous is announced (21:1-4; 22:3-5). The resurrection of the dead is declared (20:13-14), together with the universal judgment (20:11-15). Realities of decisive importance to all ages are mentioned: The Son of God (2:18), The devil (2:10; 12:9,12; 20:2,10), The testimony of Jesus (1:2,9 12:17; 19:10), The throne of God (7:15; 14;5; 22:1,3), The Word of God (1:2,9; 6:9; 19:13; ; 20:4), The lake of fire (19:20; 20:10,,14,15), The Spirit (1:10; 2;7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 11:11; 14:13; 22:17) , The bride (21:9; 22:17), The water of life (21:6; 22:1,17), The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (22:21), The coming of the Lord (3:11; 16:15; 22:7,12,20). These are only representative of the language used in this book-language that is common to all who are in Christ Jesus.
There is nothing about this type of language that can be confined to a historical period or period. It is universal language, and is found throughout the Apostolic writings. This nomenclature tells us the reference points of this book-the pillars, as it were, upon which it stands. The terms themselves are like building blocks, used to form a message for every child of God.
Different Views of One Purpose
Throughout the vision given to John, various things are underscored. The saints will ultimately survive all of the attacks against them. Their primary foe is the devil. Their secondary foes are all who are aligned with the "old serpent." All of the oppressions are hardships experienced by the faithful come from the wicked one and the hosts of darkness.
The wicked, however, experience neither opposition nor harm from the saints. This is essential to grasp, else our hearts will grow faint. The Lord Himself is the one Who punishes the wicked. The final demise of the wicked will now be affirmed. Wickedness will be overthrown in all of its aspects. Whether personal or corporate, it will be judged. The propagators of the lie and those who embrace it will be brought down together.
This is one of the fundamental things to grasp in the Revelation. The saints will experience opposition in this world, but ultimately overcome. The wicked will enjoy a measure of success in this world, but ultimately be brought down. The seven vials, or bowls, deal with the ultimate demise.
Men Are Still Responsible
It is true that Satan works in men-that the evil they do is prompted by the devil. Satan is called "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph 2:2). There are people who have "been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim 2:26). Notwithstanding this situation, those in Satan's grasp will experience the wrath of God. They will not be able to plead innocence because Satan worked in them.
The reason for this is apparent. The devil cannot work in a person who does not initially allow him to do so. Eve had to listen to the serpent, consider his tempting words, and act as though they were the truth. Those "captured" by Satan have yielded so consistently to him that their wills and heart have become hardened.
When the Lord pours out His wrath upon the ungodly, it will not be without cause. It will be just in every sense of the word. The wicked ARE deserving of the wrath of God and that reality will be apparent to all.
THE MINISTRATION OF WRATH
"Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth." Again, the locus, or center, of activity is "the temple." This is a depiction of the place occupied by God. It is not a "temple" as seen upon earth. The temple built by Solomon was built according to strict Divine instructions, which were given to David. That temple, with all of its contents and intricacies, was laid out in "the pattern of all that he had by the spirit" (1 Chron 28:12). The NIV reads, "the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind." That temple was a faint reflection of the temple of reference in the book of Revelation-the heavenly Temple.
A Necessary Overview
The use of this language ("temple") brings the Divine residence within our perception. Here is God rules. Here is where Jesus has been exalted to the throne, and where He is presently executing unquestionable dominion. This is not the realm of response as much as it is the domain of decision. Men are tempted to think of the earth as the primary location, with God responding to both the good and evil that occur there. The proper view, however, is that the heavens are the primary place, and the earth is a place where God's will is being executed with remarkable precision.
A multiplicity of personalities are involved in this reign, which are devoted to the accomplishment of an "eternal purpose." The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all involved. There is also a massive group of angelic beings, beyond number, within the proximity of the throne. These are impeccably "holy," and are consistently employed in the execution of Divine intent.
There are also a vast host of wicked personalities, including the devil, and his angels. Among this immense empire of darkness are principalities, powers, spiritual wickedness in high places, and the rulers of the darkness of this world. A sub culture of demons are also included in this group.
Then, upon the earth, is humanity, an enormous number of personalities created in the image of God. They extend from one border of time to the other, and include both righteous and godly, good and evil, approved and unapproved. From this amalgamation of persons bearing the Divine image, God is extracting a people for His own glory (Acts 15:14). This is being accomplished righteously and effectively, even though sin had dominated the mass of humanity.
In the administration of God's will, there are intricate involvements of all of these personalities. This involves the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, holy angels, arch angels, cherubim, seraphim, the devil, evil angels, principalities, powers, spiritual wickedness, rulers of darkness, men, and women. Struggle and warfare are involved, as well as absolute dominion and rule. In all of it, God is Sovereign, Jesus is ruling, and the Holy Spirit is implementing.
Both blessing and cursing are found within the context of this vast array of personalities. Rebellion and obedience are to be interpreted within this framework. No person is an island unto himself. No group can be considered in isolation of this array of personalities. They are all involved in even the most minute details of life.
The person who lives without an awareness of this situation cannot live wisely or effectively. An organization that chooses to ignore this complex arena of influences is destined to failure.
The higher we rise in the Spirit, the less significant names and places, as ordinarily conceived, appear. This is the case in this text. We are closer to the Temple, as it were, than to the earth-a blessed condition, indeed! We are not beholding mere history, but Divine intent. Here we will behold God's effective judgment against the very ones who troubled and opposed His people! His wrath will be decisive, irresistible, and effective.
Do Not Be Overwhelmed!
In our consideration of these things, we must not be overwhelmed. Those who are in Christ Jesus have come to a massive body of personalities that are all align ed with them, and support them in the good fight of faith. That group includes God, Jesus, innumerable angels, the spirits of just men made perfect, and all the redeemed on the earth (Heb 12:22-25).
The point of the Text
The text reveals that the activities taking place on the earth are the result of heaven's rule. In this case, wrath will be poured out-but not indiscriminately. The directive comes from "the Temple," where God and the Lamb are enthroned. It is also executed by holy angels, each of which are in perfect harmony with their Lord.
God does not hide from us what He will do. It is imperative, however, that we see that He is doing it. Why so? Because that will remove the element of fear from our hearts. If our Father is doing it, and we are reconciled to Him, it will not be ultimately harmful to us! Jesus spoke of a time of great shaking in the world. Of that time He said, "men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken" (Luke 21:26). This need not be the case with you.
As we near a new millennium, men are beginning to fear. That fear, however, is consistently produced by a failure to consider God our Savior. We must take courage from our text! Even if the most fearful of all things occurs, God will FIRST remember His people. He will ensure their ultimate safety in glory. Wrath will NEVER be poured out at the expense of the children of God. They will NEVER be caught in the wake of Divine anger. If suffering comes, faith will make them equal to it.
This is precisely the approach Jesus has taken in this passage. Before the summons to pour out the wrath of God is given, the people of God are seen safely on the sea of glass. The churches are to be convinced of their position in Christ!
Not a Strict Chronological Record
Remember, the book of Revelation is not a chronological record, as some suppose. It is a book of perspective that allows the child of God to increase in faith and become stable in a seemingly unstable world. I say seemingly unstable, because the Lord God Omnipotent reigns, and nothing it out of control. A chronology is addressed to the intellect, while perspective is addressed to the heart.
The Lord Jesus has FIRST revealed the destiny of the righteous. They will finally stand on the tranquil sea of glass, with harps in their hands, rejoicing in the Lord. Now, the Lord will show us the destiny of the wicked. The point is NOT that the wrath will not be poured out upon the wicked until the righteous are removed, or raptured, from the earth. That bit of theological distortion has brought great solace to many a frightened soul. However, our comfort is to be found in the Lord of circumstance, not deliverance from the circumstance-and there is a vast difference between the two.
The saints of God will be impervious to the unmixed wrath of God-just as much as their Lord, to whose image they will have been conformed. A promise has been given to them, and it is sure. "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Rev 2:11).
The Time Has Come
Now the time has come! For long centuries, it looked to the undiscerning as though it would never come-or that the whole notion was just a myth. Oh, Satan and his demonic forces know it is coming, but they are incapable of change. The devil "knows that he has a short time" (Rev 12:12). The demons are acutely aware of "the time" when they will be tormented forever (Matt 8:29). Zealously, the powers of darkness have worked to drag men into perdition with them. But now, the appointed time has come, and they, and will who followed them, will not escape. The cry comes from the place of Divine rule, "Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." Seven vials depict completeness. They also convey the idea of accumulated wrath-wrath that has been "heaped up" and "treasured" (Job 36:13; Rom 2:5).
We Have Been Delivered!
This is the "wrath" from which Jesus has delivered us. As it is written, "His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1:10). Some imagine this is the great tribulation, a temporal judgment that will fall upon the earth in the last day. But this is not the case. James was not delivered from the wrath of Herod, nor Peter and Paul from the wrath of Nero. Of old time, many saints were not delivered from the wrath of men who were responsible for grievous afflictions poured out upon the faithful. Of these saints it is written, "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:35-38). The inventors of sordid theologies will have to explain to these saints why they concocted such a distortion! Not to mention the millions of believers mercilessly slain by both pagan and papal Rome.
The Ministry of Angels
To assure us of the certainty of this judgment, we are told it will be accomplished through "seven angels." This is comforting to consider. Angels are precise and immediate in fulfilling their commission. Of them it is said, "Bless the LORD, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure" (Psa 103:20-21). Elsewhere they are also called "His ministers a flame of fire" (Heb 1:7). Their obedience is not delayed, nor does it fall short of the heavenly demand. You must know this is not the case with men. Their obedience is often prolonged and flawed. The most holy of men were often slow to comprehend the Lord's will. For example, even after Peter announced salvation was for Gentiles, who were "afar off," it was 10-15 years before the Gospel was taken to them (Acts 2:39; 10:10-28).
In our own case, truth gradually dawns upon the soul. The experience is referred to as "the day dawning and the Day Star rising in our heart" (2 Pet 1:19). The eyes of our understanding must be opened, often bringing insight long after we FIRST heard the truth (Eph 1:7-20).
But this is NOT the case with the holy angels. They do God's will instantly. When, therefore, they are commissioned to pour out the vials of God's wrath upon the earth, they will do so instantly, without delay. They will not be affected by the response of men, or be tempted to restrain themselves. We are to derive comfort from this, knowing that the will of our Father will be faithfully and fully executed.
The sureness of the coming wrath is best described in the words of Hosea. Though spoken of death and the grave, it is true for all enemies. "I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes" (Hos 13:14). If it has ever seemed as though sin and corruption is invincible, ask the Lord to help your unbelief! The end of wickedness has been scheduled in heaven, and it will come to pass.
THE FIRST VIAL
"So the FIRST went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image." Once again, sequence is not the emphasis of this text, but thoroughness. God's wrath will be experienced by ALL "who know not God and obey not the Gospel" (2 Thess 1:8). Everyone whose name is "not found written in the book of life" will also taste of the wrath of God (Rev 20:15). In this text, however, the Divine spotlight is placed upon a particularly reprehensible category of sinners. They are described as "the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image." These are the ones who succumbed to Satan's religious assault against the saints-the initiative of the second beast. Their sin is particularly abominable because it involved embracing a false Christ instead of the One exalted by the Father for their salvation. These people had embraced a "form of godliness," while refusing the "power" made accessible to them in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:5). They had been exposed to the truth of the Gospel, but elected to reject "the love of the truth" in preference for the delusions presented by the "prince of the power of the air" (2 Thess 2:10; Eph 2:2).
Contemporary Christianity is too casual in its approach to powerless religion. It is too tolerant of it, and is not aggressive in its opposition to it. This does not reflect the Divine view of things at all. Here we behold the heart of God on this matter, and it is awesome to consider. The purpose for this message is to encourage faith in God's people. But it is not a mere intellectual view that is inspired. The Lord is promoting a faith that will reject the offensive of the devil, and heartily embrace the salvation of God.
Notice the vivid description. "A foul and loathsome sore came upon" this disobedient amalgamation of people. They aligned themselves with lifeless religion, thinking it would bring them advantage. This is always the objective of Satan-to cause people to imagine there is an advantage in yielding to his suggestions. Eve did not accept the lie until she thought she would gain an advantage by doing so (Gen 3:6). Achan disobeyed God because he thought he would be the better for it (Josh 7:21). Judas betrayed Jesus for what appeared to be an advantage (Matt 26:15-16).
So it is with those who yield to the beast who speaks like a lamb-to Satan's substitute who allows people to remain religious without maintaining fellowship with the Son, into which we have been called (1 Cor 1:9). They are deceived into thinking they are the better for such an alliance. Our text, however, provides the real situation. They are being nurtured for "a foul and loathsome sore," or "noisome and grievous sore" (KJV). The idea is that of a malignant sore that will consummate in their absolute removal from "the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power" (1 Thess 1:9).
The Lord has given an example of this type of judgment. The example was historical-in the flesh. However, it was but a prelude to the type of judgment declared in our text.
The first is seen in the sixth plague brought upon Egypt. In that judgment "festering boils broke out on men and animals" Ex 9:10, NIV). The powerful affect of this judgment is seen in the words, "the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians" (Ex 9:11). The judgment resulted in the cessation of the magician's opposition to Moses. Never again did they challenge him.
In one sense, the destruction of the wicked will be sudden and without warning (1 Thess 5:3). From another point of view (as revealed in this text), it will come in such a manner as to reveal to extreme wickedness of those who have succumbed to Satan.
Egypt was finally overthrown in the drowning of its army in the Red Sea. That climactic judgment, however, was preceded by a series of plagues that revealed the worthiness of the final destruction. So will it be with the destruction of the wicked. God will not only be vindicated in their final overthrow, but in a series of judgments that reveal the utter corruption that is in them.
A review of history will confirm that the opponents of God's people were all judged and overthrown in this world. You can see the pattern in Divine history. The flood, Babel, Egypt, the seven nations of Canaan, the Philistines, the Midianites, Syria, Babylon, the Medio-Persian empire, Greece, and Rome. Wicked cities have been overthrown, including Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh, and even Jerusalem. In this very century, nations that once threatened the world, and were noted for their opposition to God's people, have been brought down. These include Japan, Germany, and Russia. Let no one doubt it, the wicked will suffer preliminary judgment in this world, and final destruction in the end.
What We Will See
We will see that men are not saved by "sores," but by the grace of God. Repentance is not induced by pain, but by "the goodness of God" (Rom 2:4). While the first trumpet affected only one-third, the first vial will touch all of the wicked. The emphasis of our text is that all those who settled for the powerless religion promoted by the beast will suffer grievously for it.
When the Spirit says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31), His words are to be taken quite seriously. Those who reject Jesus, corrupt his Word, and malign His people will not go unpunished. Also, those who dare to align themselves with these opponents of Christ will be grouped with them. They will all suffer the most fierce reprisal for sin that Divinity can inflict. The suffering is of such a magnitude that it cannot be described in the language of men. Therefore, it is seen as "foul and loathsome sores" forced upon men. This is a vivid description of pain and suffering that transcends any adequate description. Even now, this judgment is all in place-reserved "until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Pet 3:7). Of that day of reckoning it is said, "And they shall not escape" (1 Thess 5:3).
A Final Word
Lest we are tempted to view the corrupt church in an accommodating way, our text informs us this judgment is reserved for all who supported and sympathized with it. Those described as having "the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image" are people who accepted Satan's substitute. They embraced a "form of godliness," but rejected "the power thereof." They chose to quench the Spirit, refused to hear Him who is speaking from heaven, and walked after the flesh-all the while wearing the name of Jesus. The seriousness of their condition is rarely, if ever, mentioned by the nominal church.
THE SECOND VIAL
"Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died."
The first vial, or bowl, was poured out upon the earth, directed to individuals. Now the wrath of God is seen in a more extensive way. It is depicted as wrath poured out upon the sea, vast in its expanse, and seemingly unconquerable. No one has ever been able to control the sea. It is another part of creation over which mortals have no power whatsoever.
The Nations of the World
This is a sketch of this world from a national point of view. The nations-where safety is imagined to be found. The nations-the consolidation of people for safety. Here is where men suppose they can find safety. It is where human imaginations are thought to become indestructible. Nations are like a vast ocean upon which commerce, pleasure, and initiatives are launched.
The prophet Ezekiel makes an allusion to this view of nations. "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up" (Ezek 26:3). In this text, however, rather than nations coming up against someone, God is coming against the nations. In the day of salvation, God blessed the nations in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Gen 18:18; 22:18). Now, however, the wrath of God is poured out upon the sea of peoples because of their unbelief. These are the "nations" that were formerly described as "angry"(Rev 11:18).
An Introduction in Divine History
The judgment is much like the first plague against Egypt, when the waters were turned into blood (Ex 7:17-20). That was a temporal judgment against a single nation that oppressed God's people. Remember, the second trumpet resulted in one third of the sea being made blood-a temporal judgment of the nations (Rev 8:8-9).
Now, however, the entire sea becomes blood, and every living thing in it is destroyed. This includes more than men. Nothing that thrived on or in the sea capitalize on it any longer. There is no life in it, no productivity, no advantage.
Prelude to Destruction
Before the wicked are utterly destroyed, their resources will dry up. They will fully realize the impotence of their enterprises, which seemed invincible. The highest form of fleshly power-the nations-will become the source of death as God smites all unholy alliances. Oh, that this were seen more clearly by the multitudes. It would soon bring a grinding halt to the inordinate affection men have developed for nations and their governments. They will not last. Nor, indeed, will a religion endure that is patterned after worldly concepts. We are to separate from the world.
THE THIRD VIAL
"Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood . . . "
Both rivers and springs of water are judged in this vial. Again, the Holy Spirit reaches into the Word of God to develop our sense of Divine wrath. The nation of Egypt suffered a plague upon its water sources, as they became blood. The Lord told Moses to instruct Aaron as follows. "Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their streams, over their rivers, over their ponds, and over all their pools of water, that they may become blood. And there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in buckets of wood and pitchers of stone" (Ex 7:19). Thus life-giving sources were contaminated, and rendered useless to the people.
In that ancient judgment, the Lord introduced us to a type of His judgment. Those who refuse to rely upon Him will eventually see their resources dissipate. In nature, this occurred when the Lord "called for a famine" (2 Kgs 8:1; Psa 105:16), "withheld rain" (Amos 4:7), or sent destructive "blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers" (2 Chron 6:28). The prophets referred to this condition as broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer 2:13), or putting money into a bag with holes (Hag 1:6). Sinners are often judged by having their resources cursed.
A Principle to be Seen
There is an important principle here. God has orchestrated both history and Scripture to provide a basis for comprehending His ways. What men call "history" is infinitely more than a mere record of preceding eras and events. The things that occurred, and the language used to record them, serve a high purpose. They provide both a nomenclature and concepts that assist us in understanding the ways of God.
Have you not seen the remarkable parallels found Israel's deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin? Or, how about their wilderness wanderings en route to the promised land, where they needed Divine provision and encountered enemies. Is that not a depiction of our earthly pilgrimage? What marvelous building blocks for understanding are found in the tabernacle, sacrifices, and feasts, priesthood. Proper concepts of "washing," "sanctification," and "justification," were all developed in those Divinely ordered circumstances.
Today, the fashionable thing is to borrow illustrations and applications from contemporary life. Many a minister imagines this makes the truth of God relevant-but they are sorely mistaken. Such methods are a bed that is "too short," and covers that are "too narrow" (Isa 28:20). What men call the Old Testament is really God's dictionary and encyclopedia. It is where God developed a nomenclature that could hold truth, and sanctify it to our hearts.
Sources that are Not Divine
Whereas the sea portrays the nations and the expression of corrupt life, rivers and springs denote its source. These are sources that have NOT been given by God for the building of the soul. For centuries they have sustained the world, its governments, and its princes. But they will fail. In being turned into blood, they cause death instead of life.
Some of those sources are "the wisdom of this world" (1 Cor 1:20; 3:19), the "arm of flesh" (2 Chron 32:8), "riches" (Mark 10:24) and sinners joining in hand, or unholy alliances (Prov 11:21).
When these contaminated resources are used to promote the cause of Christ, the mark of the beast has been received. These are accouterments that cannot last. They are all destined to fail. Riches are called "uncertain riches" (1 Tim 6:17). The wisdom of this world is defined by God as "foolish" (1 Cor 1:20). Trusting in men is like leaning on sharp reed that "goes into the hand and pierces it" (Isa 36:6).
The pouring of the second vial upon the waters, and they become blood, is the drying up of carnal resources. It is possible that we are already beginning to see this happen-at least to a measurable degree. Today we have more experts and specialists than we have ever had before-particularly in the nominal church. But their strength has departed from them-if they ever had any. They cannot keep immorality our of the church, chicanery out of the pulpit, or charlatans our of religion. There is significant moral and spiritual decline all about us, while our universities are bulging, and our churches are filled with professionals. The rivers and springs are being turned into blood!
A Righteous Judgment
"And I heard the angel of the waters saying: You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, Because You have judged these things." Here is an aspect of Divine judgment we must never forget. Remember, we are not speaking of the administration of blessing, but of the pouring out of the wrath of God. God is impeccably righteous in all that He does- particularly in His judgments. Those who glibly speak about being angry with God have, in their response, suggested He is not righteous. How wrong they are-willingly wrong.
The wrath of God has been poured out upon the waters. Who expresses praise for God's righteousness in this judgment? No less that "the angel of the waters!" Here as an area of stewardship upon which the wrath of God was poured, and righteousness is ascribed to the Lord! He was above both the steward and the stewardship. Everything was derived from Him, for he "is, and was, and is to be."
There are examples in Scripture of holy men who acknowledged God's righteousness in His judgments. For example, when Hezekiah was told of the coming captivity of his own sons, he responded in faith. "The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good! For he said, Will there not be peace and truth at least in my days?" (2 Kgs 20;19). By this he meant God was both righteous and merciful. He was righteous in executing judgment against the wayward Israelites. He was merciful in not doing it in Hezekiah's day.
On another occasion, young Samuel was told by god to tell aged Eli of the coming judgment of his house. It would be fierce, and his sons would die. Upon hearing the grievous message, Eli responded, "It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him." (1 Sam 3:18).
In a remarkable display of strong faith, David spoke of the righteousness of God. At the time, he was exiled from the city of God. He gave directions for the ark of the covenant by be carried "back into the city," even though he was not able to accompany it. Then he added these words. "If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: 'I have no delight in you,' here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him" (1 Sam 15:25-26).
Oh, that this type of faith were more common in our day! This is the day of salvation and Divine acceptance! You see the heavenly manner in our text. After an outpouring of the fierce indignation of God, righteousness was ascribed to Him-righteousness because of the judgment just portrayed.
Their Just Due
"For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due." In this marvelous day of grace, sinners can be reconciled to the God they have offended. The door to heaven has been opened through the vicarious death of the Lamb of God. But this condition will not always exist! Those who boast of not receiving from God what they deserve had best walk in the light as He is in the light-and do it with zeal. The day of Divine reprisal is coming!
Notice that our attention is being focused on those who "have shed the blood of saints and prophets." Men tend to forget God's martyrs, but they are not forgotten in heaven! Their blood will be avenged! The language is too offensive for some to take into their mouths: "You have given them blood to drink." In another place the Lord promises, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt 26:52). Early in this book those with an ear tuned to heaven are told, "If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword" (13:9-10). Speaking of Divine retribution, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "For behold, the LORD comes out of His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; The earth will also disclose her blood, And will no more cover her slain" (Isa 26:21).
The aggression of Christ's enemies against His people will be met by Divine aggression. It will be righteous, and it will be thorough. The ungodly, particularly those who have killed the saints and the prophets, are richly deserving of this wrath. In it, they will receive "what they deserve" (NRSV).
We do well to make friends of God's people, bringing blessing and advantages to them. We are living in a time of great apathy toward the saints. Many of their own leaders manifest very little concern for them, and often are stumbling blocks and sources of sorrow to them. But God "is not unrighteous" to forget "the work and labor of love" His people have shown. By His own word, it would be unrighteous for Him to ignore their work, or cause it to go without recognition. Remember, the martyrs under the altar cried out for vengeance (Rev 6:10). Their prayer is being answered in our text.
True and Righteous
"And I heard another from the altar saying, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments." The heavenly realms are alert to Divine workings. Throughout this book there are responses, voice, and praises issuing from the proximity of the Throne. Once again, the confession is made about the reality and uprightness of these judgments. They are fierce, but they are "righteous." They are depicted by symbols, but they are "true." These are the Lord's judgments, not the retaliation of men.
THE FOURTH VIAL
"Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory." I am careful to remind you this is a vision-something that is seen. The language conveys the extent of Divine judgment, and is not to be construed as a commentary on the state of nature. With all visions, the truth they depict is to be the focus of our attention. For example, it would be foolish focus our attention on the image of Nebuchadnezzar's vision, treating it as though the demolition of a statue was God's intention (Dan 2:31-45). Also, the vision Peter had on the rooftop is was not a Divine commentary on dietary rules. It would be out of order to establish a legalistic approach to diet based on that passage (Acts 10:11-21).
The focus of this passage is not a disruption in earth's climate, although that may very well occur in these end times. Jesus did say, "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring" (Lk 21;25). This cannot, however, be the thrust of this passage. The reason should be apparent: the pouring out of the wrath of God is the point. God in His wrath will "shake all things" (Isa 13:13; Hag 2:6,21), His wrath is directed personalities, not creation.
The Source of Devilish Knowledge
The fourth vial, or bowl, of wrath is poured out upon the sun. Again, the language is taken from the plagues of Egypt. In that plague, the Lord commanded Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt" (Ex 10:21). There was a disruption of unity during that judgment, for "They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days" (Ex 10:23).
In this judgement the "wisdom from beneath" dries up, offering no means implementing human strategies. Christ's opponents will, so to speak, stay in their own houses. Their caucuses will cease, and their initiatives will come to an abrupt halt. The depravity of human wisdom will be "felt" like Egypt felt the thick darkness for three days. The sun of human wisdom will turn to darkness, and the light of carnal hope will fail.
The picture is remarkably vivid. Remember, God is judging those who have opposed His people. The wisdom and power which had seemed so effective against the saints is now reduced to rubble.
Joel wrote of Divine judgment as the blotting out of light. When God sent a people "great and strong" against His wayward people, He described the effects of that judgment in this way. "The earth quakes before them, The heavens tremble; The sun and moon grow dark, And the stars diminish their brightness" (Joel 2:1,2,10; 3:15). Everything that has previous sustained them withered and died. So will it be prior to "the end." Like Pharaoh's army attempting to pass through the Red sea, the wheels of their chariots will come off, and what was once an asset will become their liability (Ex 14:25).
Pain to the Oppressors
By saying men are "scorched with great heat," the Spirit emphasizes the affliction associated with the dissipation of power, wisdom, and influence. Because the wicked trust in the wisdom and resources of this world, it is painful to them when they are taken away by Divine judgment.
At this point, the depravity of those aligned with corrupt religion becomes evident. Although all of their resources have been taken, and great pain inflicted upon them, "they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory." They harsh words were directed to the very God by Whom they were being judged. He not only had the power to send the plagues, He also had power to call them back. Yet, these sinners did not "repent," thereby giving God glory. Sin had so hardened them they were impervious to Divine wrath. God was righteous in pouring out His wrath upon them!
There remains a notion among some people that hard times necessarily drive men to God. In the Second World War it was common to hear people say there were no atheists in foxholes. It all sounds good enough, but it is not true. With each sin the heart grows harder. The longer a person maintains form of godliness without the power, the more difficult repentance becomes. Finally, all hope of recovery is removed, and condemnation becomes sure. For such people, the wrath of Almighty God cannot close their blasphemous mouth or produce a moment of repentance. This condition will be demonstrated prior to "the end," as the futility of form without power is made evident. It is possible to reach an unchangeable position judgement cannot correct.
THE FIFTH VIAL
"Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds." Now we come to the heart of this passage. The "beast" has lifted itself against the Lamb, oppressed the people of God, and brought great handicap to the world. However, its seeming invincible reign will cease. The fifth angel directs God's wrath toward the "throne of the beast"-the seat of its power.
In this judgment, false religion becomes desolate. It has no more impetus, and can spread no further. It will offer no more salve for the consciences of corrupt souls. Its meager offerings will cease to be set before men, and its dominion will cease. See, under the canopy of worldly wisdom, false religion has spread to the far corners of the earth. It has placed restrictions upon all who refuse to give their allegiance to it. But it will not always be this way.
Throughout history, governments have fallen. That is another way of saying their thrones-or seats of government-failed. These defiled governments have fallen one by one. But in the end, they will all fall at once.
The "seat of the beast" is the fountain of earthly power, particularly in the religious realm. By saying it becomes "full of darkness" its impotence and death are accentuated. When the "throne of the beast" was struck down by God, everything that came from that throne was covered with the mantel of death.
This Divinely imposed "darkness" describes a situation where men cannot believe, and find no place for repentance (John 12:39; Heb12:17). It is similar to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, from which he simply could not recover.
What will be the response of those who supported the beast? How will they react to the demise of their mother? They will "gnaw their tongues for pain," an expression denoting great suffering of mind and conscience. These adjusted their lives so everything was supplied by "the beast." But now the "throne of the beast" has been struck with the wrath of the Almighty. It can sustain them no more, and the affects are dreadful.
Still, there is no change in these reprobates. Their religion has made them dead and unresponsive to God. When everything is taken from them, and the source of their spiritual corruption is judged, they blaspheme the God of heaven because of their suffering. This is the outcome of the apostasy of which the Apostle wrote. "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim 3:13).
There is no more corrupt condition than being unwilling and unable to respond to Divine judgment. Yet, that is where lifeless religion takes a person! In the worst of times, these souls will level charges against the living God while they gnaw their tongues for pain. They will NOT repent, even though their opposition is being judged with great harshness.
It is not possible to say too much about the danger of beastly religion-form without power. The highly polished organizations of men, however effective they may appear, will not be allowed to continue. Those with spiritual insight must break free from such delusions while they can. In the last day there will be no change.
THE SIXTH VIAL
"Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. The sixth trumpet heralded the coming of armies from the Euphrates to destroy a third part of men. That was a preliminary judgment that produced no repentance among those who persecuted the people of God. Now comes the final outpouring of wrath, and it will be directed to the river Euphrates again. This speaks of the area of the East from which God will raise powers of destruction against Babylon the Great - the whorish church.
The river Euphrates speaks of overthrow, and is so employed by the prophets. When Cyrus took Babylon captive, for example, he did so by diverting the river Euphrates (Isa 13; 44:27-28; Jer 46:2,6,10; 51:31-32).
How often were waters "dried up" by the Lord. When Israel crossed the Red Sea, it became "dry land" (Ex 14:21). When Israel crossed over to the promised land at Jericho, they "passed over on dry ground" (Josh 3:17). Thus, as the rivers were dried up, the people were able to pass over-the exact imagery presented in our text.
Both Jeremiah and Zechariah spoke of Divine judgment as drying up the waters (Jer 51:36; Zech 10:11). This is not something initiated by men, but by God. As we move toward the time of the end, the Lord will execute special judgments that will get rid of obstacles long endured.
The enemies of God, therefore, are associated with the river Euphrates. The drying up of the river signifies the removal of those standing in the way of spiritual progress.
The Kings of the East
The judgment of the Euphrates was in order to free up the passage for "the kings of the East." I am not sure of the identity of these "kings," nor am I persuaded that their identity is essential for us to know. I understand these "kings" to be the means through which spiritual Babylon will be overthrown. They are therefore aligned with God, and are not false prophets-opponents that are mentioned later.
It is important to remember we are not dealing with strict chronology, but with different perspectives of the judgment of the wicked. From an individual viewpoint, all who have been deceived by the beast, or corrupt religion, will taste of God's wrath (the first vial). From the standpoint of nations, great empires that have been held in tact by corrupt religion will fall (the second vial). Viewed from another perspective, God will render profitless forms of religion that have supposedly sustained people and nations over long periods of time (the third vial). From yet another view, the wisdom of this world, so highly vaunted by the nominal church, will be brought down by the Almighty, revealing its utter impotence (The fourth vial). Divine wrath will also be revealed in removing everything that is a hindrance to the fall of spiritual Babylon.
At this point, I am giving you my opinion. Although it is a studied opinion, it is, nevertheless, an opinion. I see these "kings from the East" as the 144,000, a number denoting the converted tribes of Israel. It is through them that God will bring down the nominal church-the corruption of the Gentiles. All obstacles to the rapid and effective spread of the "everlasting Gospel" will be removed. These Jews are said to be "with the Lamb" on Mount Zion-a description designating the reign of spiritual kings and priests.
I do not pretend to know the obstacles that stand in the way of this being accomplished. Nor, indeed, do I believe this is the point of the text. Babylon will come down, and everything that is hindering that from happening will be removed.
"And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet." Our spirits are now lifted into spiritual realms, as we are given to see the reaction of the wicked one to the beginnings of Divine wrath. At this point, God's wrath is not poured out upon the devil-although it will be thus directed. Again, we are not see things from the perspective of time-either brief or extended.
The point here is that Satan will unleash a barrage of delusion before the end. Notice the hierarch of evil. First the devil (dragon), then the beast (the worldly form of rule), then the "false prophet" (corrupt religion). These represent Satan's strategy, and compare to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The devil is the power behind the beast and the false prophet, and both bring honor to him.
This is the first time we read of "the false prophet" in Revelation. It is not A false prophet, but THE false prophet. I do not believe it is a particular individual, any more than the "beast" is a particular government. Rather, they are the means Satan uses to implement his purpose-coercive power and delusion. All of his initiatives are within those categories.
What emanates from this unholy triad is defiled and defiling: "three unclean spirits like frogs." They are not frogs, but are "spirits LIKE frogs." It is interesting to compare the form taken by the Holy Spirit versus that taken by Satan's influences. The Spirit came in the form of a "dove"-a clear fowl (Matt 3:16). We are introduced to the defiling influence of frogs in the Egyptian plague (Ex 8:1-13). They brought corruption and defilement everywhere they went.
Remember, the bowls of wrath have been poured out upon those having the mark of the beast-but on the the beast himself. They have been powered out upon the seat of the beast-but not on the beast itself. Thus, while yet in the death-throes of the defeat he suffered in Jesus' death, the devil unleashes a final attack.
"For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Those who doubt the realm of the supernatural are not aware of the extent of Satan's power. The frogs John saw were really demons. Scripture confirms these diabolical spirits did not pass away when Jesus was exalted, even through they lost considerable influence. Idolatry is nothing less than the worship of demons (Deut 32:17; 1 Cor 10:20). There are doctrines perpetrated by demons (1 Tim 4:1). To this very day, the demons "believe there is one God, and tremble" (James 2:19). They still set a table and a cup before the people of God, inviting them to drink their poison (1 Cor 10:21).
And what do these demons do? First, they perform signs, by which they deceive souls at a distance from God. They go out to the "kings of the earth"-to those who are elevated in the worldly realm. It is no normal work that they are pictured doing. They are seen marshaling forces for one final battle: "the battle of that great day of God Almighty."
Although these forces have been waging war throughout history, they will launch a final assault. The language of this verse is intriguing, forcing us to think beyond the norm: "the battle of that great day of God Almighty." This cannot be the day of judgment, for there will be no battle then. It cannot be the end of the world, for men will flee, not side with demons to do battle.
It is apparent that a final aggressive effort will be made by Satan against the people of God. Some are of the opinion we are in the middle of that battle now. I do not believe, however, that this could be called "that great day of God Almighty." Notwithstanding, we do well to prepare ourselves for an unparalleled Satanic initiative. We have been duly warned, and we must not fall asleep. The last revival, we will find, will also spark a resurgence of Satanic delusion. We do well to reject any form of theology that views Satan and his hosts as inactive, impotent, and unable to rally the wicked together. Too, let us zealous remain detached from this present evil world. Those who insist on being worldly will be ultimately gathered by Satan against Christ. Too, they will be destroyed by Him.
JESUS IS COMING!
"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." Here is a marvelous word of comfort. We have read of the wrath of God being poured out. We have also heard of Satan rallying spiritual despots for "the battle of the great day of God Almighty." All of this might tend to strike fear into the hearts of believers. Thus comes a word of comfort from the King. "I am coming!" it is that coming that is the blessed hope of the church (Tit 2:11-12). But we must not hold to that coming as a mere doctrine. Our hearts must embrace it, allowing it to assist us in purifying ourselves (1 John 3:3-4).
And for what are we to "watch?" This is a vital point. Are we to watch for the battle of Armageddon? The "battle of the great day of God Almighty?" The rise of the beast, or the mark of his name? Indeed not! While countless numbers of people are looking for these things, we are to look for our Lord. That anticipation will evidence itself in consistent watching and moral and spiritual purity.
If He comes and finds us in the embrace of a powerless religion, we will be ashamed! If He comes and finds us possessing a form of godliness, yet denying the power thereof, we will be ashamed.
But that is not all. Those who are ashamed will be witnessed by the assembled universe. "THEY see his shame!" Settle it in your hearts to be ready for the return of Christ Jesus!
"And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon." This is the first and only mentioning of this word in Scripture. It is mentioned in no other form anywhere else. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding this verse. Still, certain men have taken it upon themselves to develop lengthy and detailed doctrines around it. Such freedom with the text of Scripture is not to be commended.
The word means "Mountain of Megiddo." This, some suppose, is associated with the Plain of Megiddo, which was known as a gathering place for decisive battles. Zechariah referred to it as a place of anguish (Zech 12:11). That is where Josiah was overthrown and killed (2 Kgs 23:29). A battle with the "kings of Canaan" was fought there (Judges 5:19). Ahaziah also died there (2 Kgs 9:27).
Enough is told us so we will know God is glory to get great glory for Himself in the end. The best has actually been reserved for last. Texts like this should not be brushed aside as meaningless, but pondered with great sobriety. Anything that involves the marshaling of the kings of the earth by demons of hell, and a "battle of the great day of God Almighty," must not be taken lightly. Texts like this are highly disruptive to stilted theology.
Let us be content to believe that God's eternal purpose involves things of a greater magnitude than is commonly believed. Satan is more aggressive than lethargic souls want to believe. If he is getting ready for the "battle, of the great day of God Almighty," what of us? What of you? Is that day not worthy of preparation?
There are several weighty things to be observed in this text. We must not allow the symbolic language to hide these things from us. They are matters necessary for our preparation for the coming of the Lord.
(1) First, they speak of God's wrath. Jesus has delivered us from this, and the Spirit will enable us to avoid being caught in its wake. The presence of the seven vials, or bowls, confirms Jesus wants us to know about Divine wrath. It will assist us to avoid ensnarement by the wicked one.
(2) The seven vials introduce us to the judgment of the deceived-the people with a form of godliness that deny the power thereof. While men try to disarm us concerning powerless religion, this text serves to awaken us to its danger.
(3) God will punish those who have slain His people. The martyrs are not just statistics. Their blood will be avenged, down to the person. Until that time of vengeance, God has given these enemies space to repent.
(4) Behold the unspeakable hardness of the those who persecute the saints. When severely punished by the Lord, they blaspheme His holy name in the very midst us great pain.
(5) We are introduced to the irretrievablity of the reprobate. There is a state from which repentance is not possible, even though sore judgments are poured out upon the transgressor.
(6) Satan is pictured as marshaling the kings of the earth to do battle in the great day of God Almighty. We ought not, therefore, develop an inordinate love for such kings and governments.
(7) Under Satan's guidance, heresies and great delusions are perpetrated among men. They are aided by miracles wrought by the spirits of demons.
(8) The influence of the wicked one defiles, corrupts, and renders unsuitable to stand before the Almighty. The spirits emitting from the dragon, beast, and false prophet, were all "unclean."
(9) At the foundation of this book, we are continually confronted with the coming of the Lord, the judgment of the wicked, and the reward of the righteous. These must have a prominent place in our thinking.
(10) There is a judgment that is final, and a day of wrath that is complete. We must prepare for both!