CHAPTERS 15 AND 16 OF THE REVELATION
(Notes Compiled by F. M. Perry)
A Part of Division II, The Underlying Conflict, The Deeper Spiritual Background (continued).
Section 5, Chapters 15 and 16, The Seven Bowls of Wrath.
An Overall View.
Chapters 15 and 16 together make up Section 5 of the Revelation. This section again shows visions depicting the whole cycle of time from Christ's first coming to His second coming and to the final judgement.
Chapter 15 is the introduction to the pouring out of God's seven bowls of wrath in chapter 16. First, before the pouring out of God's wrath is depicted, a pause is depicted in chapter 15, verses 2 to 4. The purpose of the pause is to show again that God's people will always be safe from God's wrath. God's people are shown in the future after the final judgment, in heaven, indicating that they would not be harmed spiritually during the period in which God's bowls of wrath would be poured out. They stand in the future in heaven singing a new song as was depicted in chapter 14.
In chapter 15, verses 5 - 8, the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple of heaven and were given, by one of the four living creatures, the seven bowls of God's wrath. Then, chapter 16 showed what happened when each of the seven angels poured out his bowl of wrath.
The visions of the seven bowls of wrath is similar in certain respects to the visions of the seven trumpets in chapters 8 through 11. The areas affected by the pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath are the same areas that were affected by the sounding of the seven trumpets. And they both occurred in the same sequence. Both the visions of the bowls and the visions of the trumpets showed the judgements of God upon (1) the earth, (2) the sea, (3) the rivers, (4) the sun, (5) the abyss, (6) the river Euphrates, and (7) the final and complete judgement.
Also to be noticed is a progression from the visions of the trumpets to the visions of the bowls. Whereas the trumpet judgements were restricted to "one third" of the earth, the bowl judgements are not limited. They affect the entire earth. The significance of the symbols trumpets and bowls is: trumpets warn or announce, but bowls pour out or execute. So the visions of the trumpets indicate God's partial judgements in order to announce and warn about the coming final judgement. In the visions of the bowls God made final, but not complete, judgements on all the earth.
It is clear that these final judgements of the bowls are to be carried out through all history for they run concurrently with the trumpet judgements which are to occur throughout history. And they are to run concurrently with the actions of the dragon and the two beasts of chapters 12 - 14. It is a marvelous thing that is revealed here. God's partial trumpet judgements of warning are occurring at the same time as God's final bowl judgements are occurring. Final judgements do not mean complete judgements. Judgements will not be complete until that last great judgement day. The complete sentence will not be enforced until the last great judgement day.
Does God let impenitence and hardness of heart go unpunished until the final complete judgement of the last day? These visions answer that question, and the answer is no. When in history the wicked fail to heed the partial manifestations of God's trumpet judgements, the final wrath of God follows - final, though not complete until the judgement day. The plagues of the bowls are the last. Not that they come only at the last part of history, but that they are the last for any individual wicked person living in any generation of history. When the bowls are poured out on individuals there is no more opportunity for those individuals during their lives to repent. When the wicked, often warned over and over again by the trumpets of judgement, continue to harden their hearts and refuse to repent, their fleshly death finally plunges them into the wrath of God. At their fleshly death it is final. In this sense, those upon whom the bowls of wrath have been poured have received their final judgement. They have, somewhere in their last days, or on the day of their death, crossed over the deadline, the line between God's patience and God's wrath.
In Christ's story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, is an example of this very thing. The wicked rich man died in an unrepentant state and was buried. In Hades, the unseen place where souls go after death of the fleshly body, he found himself in torment. He asked that someone dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off his tongue for he was in agony "in this flame." God's wrath had fallen on the rich man.
That incident, told by Jesus Himself, occurred back there in the first century even before the Christian dispensation started. The rich man had not experienced the final complete judgement day. He was not yet in hell (GEHENNA). He was in the unseen place where all souls go after fleshly life is over. He had not received the complete judgement of the lake of fire. But he knew that his judgement was final! He knew that he could not escape the coming lake of fire. The bowls of God's wrath had fallen upon him. And so have they fallen upon the whole wicked world, generation after generation in the past, and continue to be poured out in this generation upon those who have the mark of the beast. The bowls of wrath are, therefore, poured out on the whole world, not just one third part of it, for not a single wicked person of the entire world escapes them.
The progression of these visions from trumpets to bowls is important to understand.. God warns with the trumpets of judgement day after day and generation after generation. On those who do not repent is poured out the bowls of God's wrath even in their own day and generation. Those wicked people killed in one of the trumpet judgements which affected only one third of the earth, actually experienced a bowl judgement of God's wrath. To all the other people who were not killed, it was a trumpet judgement of warning. If one does not accept and act on the warning by repenting and turning to Christ, eventually in one's life the bowls of wrath will be poured out upon him.
Several important points are deduced from this.
(1) The bowl judgements are final judgements, sure and certain for every one and for all people who do not repent and turn to Christ during their time on earth.
(2) God has patience and wants every person to repent. But His patience is not everlasting. "It is appointed unto men to die once and after this comes the judgement" (Hebrews 9:27).
(3) God uses His bowels of wrath poured out on one incorrigible sinner to be a warning for all other sinners who might repent.
In yet another way, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28).
A. Chapter 15, Verses 1-4, The Victorious Stand on the Sea of Glass Worshiping God.
"(1) And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. (2) And I saw, as it were, a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had come off victorious from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (3) And they sang the song of Moses the bond-servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying, 'Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. (4) Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed.'" NASV.
Verse 1 says that seven angels had seven plagues were the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. As we have said in the introduction to this section, this does not mean that the seven plagues refer to the end of time only, or exclusively to the final judgement. Hendricksen says, "Whenever in history the wicked fail to repent in answer to partial manifestations of God's anger in judgements, the final effusion of wrath follows."
In verse 2 "the sea of glass" rebinds the reader of chapter 4, verse 6, where the vision showed a sea of glass in front of the throne of God in heaven. "Those who had come off victorious from the beast" were the redeemed of God. They stood by the "sea of glass" holding "harps" of God.
Many commentators seem to think that these "harps" were to accompany the singing. But it is not likely that the "harps" were literal when everything else in the vision was symbolic. Fiesters says, "Literalism here is hopeless. How could one literally put the wrath of God in a bowl and pour it on the sun."
James Burton Coffman asks, "Are these actual harps in heaven? Who could believe such a thing? Note that God "gave" these harps to the singers. What else could this be except the voices which were created by God? In the entire history of the world up to this time, that is the only musical instrument that God ever made; and we refuse to believe that He will enter in to the manufacture of mechanical instruments of music in heaven. In chapter 8, verse 4, the "incense" was symbolic of the prayers of the saints; here the "harps" were symbolic of the songs of the redeemed as the very next verse says, "And they sang."
In verse 3 the victorious saints in heaven "sing the song of Moses ... and the song of the Lamb." They sing! There is no mention of accompaniment except the thoughts of the song itself, the accompaniment of the heart. Presumably, in the vision they sang with their symbolic harps which were their voices. Remember, this was a vision of the redeemed saints in heaven. The saints' bodies had died in the past, had been buried, and in the last great day had been resurrected. Then their bodies had been changed to spiritual bodies, suitable for dwelling in an all spiritual environment. With their new changed bodies they had to be given voices with which to sing in their new spiritual environment. They were given "harps of God" with which to sing. The harps were symbolical of their spiritual voices.
They sang of Moses and the Lamb. This signifies the unity of the saints of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Moses was the Old Testament type of Christ. The Lamb, of course, was Christ Himself. Apparently, all those who stood in heaven by the sea of glass were the redeemed of all time, not just the redeemed of the New Testament church.
Note that this song that they sang speaks of the mighty works of God. There is not a word about their own achievements; self is at last forgotten; selfishness is finally destroyed. In heaven the song of Moses and the Lamb is exclusively an anthem of loving praise to the Almighty.
In verse 4 the song of the saints says, "all the nations will come and worship before Thee." Although the total number of the redeemed may be but a small remnant of the total number of people who have lived on earth, this signifies that God will redeem people from every nation of the earth. Christians of today must not shrink from the task of preaching the gospel to every nation on earth. The gospel is sufficiently powerful to redeem people from every nation.
B. Chapter 15, Verses 5-8, Seven Angels Who Had the Seven Plagues Are Given Seven Bowls of the Wrath of God.
"(5) After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, (6) and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in lenin, clean and bright, and girded around their breasts with golden girdles. (7) And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. (8) And the temple was filled with smoke fro9m the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished." NASV.
In verse 5 the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened. The symbol in use here was the Most Holy Place if the ancient Tabernacle in which was the Ark of the Covenant. The ark of the Covenant in those days was said to contain the testimony (Exodus 25:16). In this vision the Tabernacle of Testimony was in heaven and it was the dwelling place of God.
It was from this dwelling place of God that the seven angels came in verse 6. This indicates that the wrath, which was about to be revealed when these angels poured out their bowls, is God's wrath.
In verse 7 one of the four living creatures who serve God around His throne gave the seven angels the bowls of wrath. Note that the bowls were full. This suggests that God has His own measure, a way in which He determines when wrath is to be poured out. The wrath of God is not like the emotional wrath of people. God's wrath is righteous. It is simply the operation of God's righteous law against sin.
God's law is adverse to evil and will root out evil. It is immutable. The wages of sin is death, and death means the wrath of God. But for all people, sinful as they are, God holds off His wrath and gives them instead warnings and opportunities to repent; and He offers them salvation from wrath through Christ. Only after one has refused salvation, has refused to repent, and has ignored repeated warnings, only then is God's bowl of wrath "full" toward that one. If one does not repent and obey Christ, the bowl must be poured out when full.
In verse 8 the reader learns that there comes a time in a life of sin when God's offer of salvation is cut off. For it says that after the seven angels left the temple of God to go forth with the bowls full of wrath, "no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues were finished." This seems to indicate that no one can any longer go to God to intercede for the unrepentant sinner. God's tender mercies having gone unheeded, will eventually be withdrawn and God's law, righteous though unmerciful, must take over.
This not just the end of all time that is symbolized by the vision. God's wrath has been poured out on all the wicked of every generation since the world began, on everyone who has died in their sins. More than that, God has wiped out whole cities, whole cultures, and whole civilizations, and will undoubtedly do so again. There is no world system of entrenched wickedness anywhere on earth that is safe from these bowls of wrath.
C. Chapter 16, Verses 1-9, Four of the Seven Bowls Poured Out into the Earth.
"(1) And I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, 'Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth.' (2) And the first angel went and poured out his bowl into the earth; an it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (3) And the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. (4) And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. (5) And I heard the angel of the waters saying, 'Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; (6) for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.' (7) And I heard the altar saying, 'Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgements.' (8) And the fourth angel poured his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. (9) And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory." NASV.
Moffat said that the bowl judgements are amplifications and adaptations of the trumpet judgements. Hendricksen said that these bowls are final but not complete judgements. God's saints are not harmed by them. James Burton Coffman said that they represent the total corruption of the earth's environment, not the physical environment which is here used as a symbol, but the moral, intellectual, religious, and spiritual environment.
If these great catastrophes portrayed in the visions are symbols of corruption of in the moral, intellectual, religious, and spiritual realms, one must think of the implications. Satan is the one who is leading the world into this corruption. But Satan is able to do it only because God allows it and has a purpose for it. In that sense God "sends" these catastrophes to the world as His hardening of mankind due to sin and rebellion against Him. James Burton Coffman suggests that the bowls of wrath are the same hardening that Paul wrote about in Romans 1: 24-28. Paul said that God gave the people of the world over to impurity, to degrading passions, and to depraved minds because the people chose to go after such things as presented by Satan. God delivered them over to the devices of Satan whom they preferred to serve.
These bowls are actually the culmination of human wickedness, and they are also, in a very real sense, the judgements of God upon the incorrigibly evil. When God at last allows people to walk fully and unrestrained in the evil way they have chosen, the total pollution of the moral, intellectual, religious, and spiritual environment will happen again just as it has in civilizations of the past; Brother Coffman said that these seven bowls symbolize the ultimate hardening of all people who have the mark of the beast.
In verse 2 the first bowl became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast. The bowls of wrath do not affect anyone except those who have the mark of the breast. They do not affect Christians, at least not in the way that they affect the evil followers of the beast to whom God's offer of mercy is no longer applicable. They have refused to repent and have hardened their hearts to such extent that God's offer of salvation has no meaning.
This does not mean that there is no effect at all on Christians. Christians alive in the flesh on earth must live in the presence of these bowls of wrath for the evil followers of the beast are all around them. But Christians are shielded from the wrath contained in the bowls. Although Christians may have afflictions of the flesh, these afflictions are not bowels of wrath to them, and the ultimate effect of afflictions on Christians is completely different from the effect on the followers of the beast.
It is suggested then that the first bowl of wrath which is poured out on the earth is a symbol of the "deluding influences" that God sends upon the incorrigibly wicked that "they might believe what is false" (2nd Thess. 2:11). It is a symbol of God's hardening of the hearts of the wicked, or His giving over of evil which they have chosen over God. (Hebrews 3:13).
One might ask, how is this "hardening of a heart" a judgement of wrath against the wicked? It clearly and completely places such wicked individuals in the camp of Satan. Satan was long ago cast out of heaven and can never return there or be where God is. This now is the fate of his followers as well. Satan's followers are spiritually dead. They have become ripe grapes ready for reaping into the wine press of the wrath of God.
If this is a correct interpretation of the first bowl of God's wrath, it is also, at least in part, the interpretation of all seven bowls.
In verse 3 the second bowl was poured out into the sea. The sea was the origin of the sea beast described in chapter 13. The sea was a symbol of the teeming population of the earth. The figure is the total physical environment of mankind. The Lord gave John visions of spiritual things.
In the figure the sea became blood as of a dead man. It turned into rotting, stinking blood. It is symbolic of the spiritual environment after the wrath of God has been poured out. Every living "soul" died in the sea of blood. Notice the use of the word "soul". The only death for a "soul" is spiritual death. The "soul" does not die the physical death of the body. Death for the "soul" is banishment from the presence of God into hell. Therefore this second bowl of wrath, is like the first. It places the incorrigibly wicked squarely on the side of Satan, spiritually dead as is Satan.
James Burton Coffman said, "When man himself as a factor in his environment becomes popularly and generally devoted to selfishness, greed, lust, violence, and every form of evil, when the 'in thing' for the vast majority is indulgence in sex, homosexuality, blasphemy, drunkenness, corruption, hatred, and irreligion, the human race itself becomes a 'dead sea.' The second bowl of wrath has been poured out."
In verse 4 the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. James Burton Coffman suggests the following meaning: "A vast number of earth's great cities are located on the rivers; and just as the rivers move downward to the sea, so the influences of earth's great cities flow downward from them into all mankind. We interpret the blight upon the rivers and springs of water as the ultimate blight upon the urban civilizations of the world which will change the influence descending from the great cities into blood."
Another commentator spoke of the contaminations of such things as marriage, political science, public morals and good taste being rivers and springs turned into blood.
In verse 5, the angel said that this judgement of the bowls is a righteous judgement of God. The judgements are not out of character or unbecoming of the one true and living God who gave His Sin for mankind's redemption. No. The judgements are exactly what the God of love must do.
Verse 6 reveals the principle that those who pour out the blood of saints and prophets will be given blood to drink (symbolically). Violence has a way of destroying itself through the divine law of retribution. God will reward ruthless, barbarous. Violent cultures with a liberal dose of their own medicine. Can one not see this principle at work in the world today?
In verse 7 John heard a voice from the altar. It was in connection with the altar that the prayers of saints went up to God. In chapter 6 the voices of the souls who had been slain for the word of God issued from beneath the altar, asking God, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on earth?" The visions of the bowls answered those under the altar. Judgement is swift and sure, occurring continuously in the life of every person and every generation.
Verse 8 says the fourth angel poured his bowl upon the sun. Apparently the Lord wants people to see in this vision the total physical environment of the earth for the sun affects everything. But it is a symbolic figure. God promised in Genesis 8:22 that the ordered seasons of day and night, summer and winter, seed time and harvest shall not cease while the earth remains. This vision of the terrible total destruction of the physical environment, including the effect of the sun, is a symbolic figure. What does the figure mean?
Lets try this explanation. The vision is figurative of spiritual wrath. The sun, in the physical realm, is the "light of the world". In the spiritual realm, Christ and His truth is the light of people's souls and spirits as indicated in John 1:9, "There was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man." When the truths of God's word, which are spiritual light to mankind, become so polluted that they do not enlighten but only scorch and burn mankind, then the bowl of the wrath of God has been poured out on the sun. Can one not see this today by the perversion of God's word in various denominations of so-called Christianity?
In verse 9 Revelation is telling everyone how God first works with evil men to try to reclaim them. Those who are now Christians were once evil, but God reclaimed them. But of those who will not be reclaimed, the vision tells how God judges them and applies His wrath to them. God wants all people to be saved. The gospel is presented to all people. If they reject it, the trumpets of judgement sound. This is a warning that their way leads to destruction. The gospel is still available to people who have heard the trumpets of judgement. But if they continue in sin, eventually the bowls of wrath are poured out and they are doomed to destruction. The trumpets and bowls are occurring simultaneously throughout history. A trumpet warning to one person may be a bowl of wrath to another.
D. Chapter 16, Verses 10-11, The Fifth Angel Poured Out His Bowl.
"(10) And the fifth angel poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, (11) and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds." NASV..
In verse 19, the throne of the beast is the center of anti-Christian government. The purpose of mentioning the throne of the beast is to take the reader back to the visions of the two beasts of chapter 13. The kingdom of this world, marshaled by Satan against God and His truth, is the object of this judgement.
This vision prophesies the corruption of human governments into Satan's instruments of suppression, persecution, and destruction of God's truths. In John's time the Ro9man Empire was a good example of the throne of the beast. Today there may be many examples.
Verse 10 says the kingdom of the beast became darkened when the fifth bowl was poured out. When people insist on directing their own steps they inevitably fall prey to Satan and are found walking in darkness. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps." (Jeremiah 10:23). Continuous walking in darkness results inevitably in the deterioration and ultimate collapse of godless states. (Note the recent collapse of the godless Soviet Union. Are there other examples?)
This does not mean that any utopias will arrive on earth. or that the world as a whole will get better and better. God uses these godless countries as His vessels of wrath and it is one portion of the beast's kingdom that wipes out another portion. Inevitably agony and suffering must follow the perversion of a government to Satan's purposes. Verse 19 says, "They gnawed their tongues in pain." Is "tongue gnawing" going on in the world today?
In verse 11 note that those on whom the fifth angel poured out his bowl had also received the judgement of the first bowl because they had the pain and sores of the first judgement. This bears out the fact that the judgements of the bowls are cumulative and collective, being poured out in quick succession (if not simultaneously) on the wicked.
E. Chapter 16, Verses 12-16, The Sixth Angel Poured Out His Bowl.
"(12) And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the east. (13) And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; (14) for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (15) ('Behold I an coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame') (16) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon." NASV.
In verse 12, when the sixth angel poured out his bowl, the vision revealed that the great river Euphrates dried up so that the kings from the east could march right across on dry ground unrestrained by the water. James Burton Coffman, and other commentators, suggest that the river Euphrates symbolizes the boundary or barrier between God's people and Satan's forces of evil. When this bowl of wrath was poured out the barrier dried up and the evil hordes represented by the "kings of the east" walked right in and did their will. The barrier that warded off hostile hosts was gone. James Burton Coffman says that people can see this happening when a so-called Christian church ordains a homosexual preacher, throws a drinking party for its own members, or teaches adultery and fornication in the guise of new morality. The making of sin to be popular and acceptable in churches themselves would indeed be exactly that type of barrier removal.
Church members expect sin to be in the world. God places His people in His church with barriers erected between His people and the world. People are tearing down the barriers and letting the world into the church. When people insist on doing this, God gives them over to the sin, and the river Euphrates is dried up.
A commentator named Carpenter speaks in a way that makes us think of our own American society, "The Euphrates is dried up when the hostile powers of evil are unchecked by the popular conscience, when the public sentiment loses all sense of shame, and when the decorum of life, which has acted as a breakwater against the tide of outrageous evil, is swept away. Then the hostile powers of evil cross boldly over and invade the whole sacred soil of human life."
The "kings of the east" were identified in the vision as the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet of chapters 12 and 13. They represent godless government and false religion. Out of their mouths, said the vision, came three unclean spirits. This is a clear indication that the meaning of these symbolic visions lies in the spiritual realm. The fact that the evil spirits come from their mouths would seem to indicate that the evil power is propaganda. They are Satan's spiritual agents sent to spread Satan's lies.
In verse 14, Satan's purpose was revealed, to gather together the whole world to make war on God. Chapter 13 revealed that Satan was once an angel in heaven who rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven. Because of this, Satan has, throughout history,.exercised great wrath because he knows that he has only a short time. If he can, he wants to defeat God. Revelation shows Christians today that it is impossible to defeat God, yet Satan works in a frenzy to do it. It is Satan's plan to breach all the boundaries and barriers around God's people, subvert the whole world if he can, and gather the whole world together to face God in a final showdown.
Now I (your writer) do not know that Satan, being a spirit, is limited by this world's time as we know it. I do not know that he is trying to arrange a showdown on any particular specific day in history. It appears to me that Satan is directing such a showdown daily and God is pouring out His bowls of wrath on the evil forces daily. Many "kings of the east" who stood up against God in past history have already been utterly defeated. There may be a sense in which Satan's activities become even more frenzied as time, as we know it, goes on. There may be a sense in which the "kings of the whole world", in joining with Satan, appear to become more and more powerful, working more seemingly miraculous signs as time goes on. Whether this is true or not, there is one specific day in our time to which the Lord refers. That is the day of verse 15 of which the Lord says, "Behold I come as a thief." This, of course, refers to the day of the Lord's second coming, of which Paul wrote, "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you, for you know full well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." (1st Thess. 5:1-2). Then Paul assured the Christians in a later verse, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief."
The Lord through these visions forbids us from looking for some great specific day on which there will be a deployment of physical world armies at one particular place to have a final show down with God, for no vision of a great physical battle ever appears in the Revelation. Verse 15 says to watch, but the watching is in respect to0 the Christian's own behavior, not in speculating about a specific great war or battle. The watching and the keeping of the Christian's garments (verse 15) is not a preparation for a physical battle, but a matter of prayer and spiritual watchfulness, and the keeping of one's spiritual garments of faith, hope, and love. These are the garments of discernment which cut through the deceptive propaganda of Satan and his demons. The "war of the great day of God" is a daily one, going on in people's hearts constantly. And Satan is constantly losing the battle, as bowls of God's wrath are constantly being poured out. God causes Satan and his demons to defeat themselves.
However, verse 16 speaks of a place called "Har-Magedon" where, in the vision, Satan gathered his forces. Notice first of all that no battle was mentioned there. And God's army was not mentioned as being there. There is another vision we will study in Revelation 19:19 which also showed "the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled." In that vision the Lord was shown leading His armies in heaven. No specific location was given for Satan's armies, but it is clear they were not in heaven. And again, no battle was mentioned. The occasion of the gathering of the beast and his armies to make war against Christ was simply used by God as an occasion to seize the beast and the false prophet and to throw them with their followers into the lake of fire. There was no battle, just the destruction of the wicked. There is the same intimation here in the vision of chapter 16 as in the vision of chapter 19. When the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet gather the kings of the earth to the place called Har-Magedon, there will be no battle. Has not God already poured out six bowls of wrath upon them? There stand convicted in the most vulnerable place they could be, with Satan where God put him when he was thrown out of heaven. The seventh bowl of wrath is simply poured out on them and "it is done", says the seventh angel.
Really, there probably is no such actual physical place as Har-Magedon. The name is symbolic. It signifies a spiritual conflict. It is the spiritual place where the spiritual conflict takes place, which is the hearts of people.
There was a geographical place in the old nation of Israel called the Plain of Esdralon which may be associated with the Hebrew word Har-Magedon. On that plain Israel fought battles, some of which she won and some of which she lost. The plain is not associated with either victory or defeat. Perhaps it suggests a place of decision. The place, in a spiritual sense, is the hearts of people.
F. Chapter 16, Verses 17-21, The Seventh Angel Poured Out His Bowl.
"(17) And the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air; and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, 'It is done.' (18) And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since men came to be on earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. (19) And the great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of wine of His fierce wrath. (20) And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. (21) And huge hailstones,. About one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men, and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe." NASV.
In verse 17 the seventh angel pours out his bowl upon the air. In John's day almost 2,000 years ago, it could have been said figuratively that the very air people breathed was contaminated with evil. Evil in the Roman Empire at that time was one sprawling, intricate, well-organized system of wickedness. Marriage was corrupted. There were some sixty million slaves in the Empire. Black arts of magic and witchcraft were practiced everywhere. Religious temples of the pagan gods exploited sex, drunkenness,.and other evils. Thus, the fulfillment of this seventh bowl against ancient Rome was carried out.
James Burton Coffman suggests that these words of verse 17 perfectly describe the pollution of the airwaves today by the excesses exhibited on radio, television, and the internet. In a sense the very air is contaminated. The pouring of the bowl of God's wrath upon the air surely indicates the coming of a time of the near total destruction of man's moral environment. When there is no longer a place to go for a "whiff of fresh air" spiritually, the hardening of those who have the mark of the beast is complete.
In the vision all the bowls have been poured out. It appears that all the evil in the universe will unite to oppose truth and righteousness, making it appear to mere physical eyes, for a time, that all is lost. But the Revelation informs us that this is not the view of spiritual eyes. Evil shall not win; right shall prevail.
The second coming of the Lord and the final judgement is next described beginning in verse 18 right after the voice from the throne closes the episode of the bowls of wrath with the words, "It is done."
Verses 18 -21 describe the final complete judgement. It will be related in more detail later in the Book of revelation. These verses are a brief summary of what falls as the last extremity of God's wrath,. The final and complete judgement.
In verse 19 the vision reveals that there are three aspects or three figures of this judgement.
(1) The great city was divided into three parts. When the great city was mentioned in chapter 11 it appeared that the title "great city" referred to the man-made centers of civilization as a whole. In chapter 11 the great city was referred to as Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem where the Lord was crucified. The figure contained three civilizations. So now in chapter 16, perhaps that is why the great city is divided into three parts. But all parts are wicked, and all are to be destroyed.
(2) The cities of the nations fell. This explains the makeup of the great city. All the civilizations of man's pride will collapse.
(3) Babylon the great was given the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. This figure reminds the reader of chapter 14:8, where this judgement 0of Babylon was foretold. There it was said that she made the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality. Now, in chapter 16, her final judgement is pronounced in the same figure, to drink of the cup of the wine of the wrath of God.
Many commentators seem to think that these last verses of chapter 16 are figures to denote the actual destruction of man's physical works on earth. But it seems clear that the system of philosophies, ideas, laws, organizations, and governments will be destroyed. Nevertheless, in the midst of this final judgement (in verse 21) the vision shows that evil people continue to blaspheme God.
The visions of chapter 15 and 16 again have covered the entire history of the earth, especially, the history of the Christian age, until the second coming of Christ.