17. The Righteous Judgment of the Lord
Revelation Chapters 15 and 16
Over the last few chapters of the Book of Revelation, the Lord has given us various scenes that take place during the last seven years before the coming of the Lord at the end of the age. Chapters 12-15 give us an interlude between the blowing of the trumpets and the pouring out of God's wrath in judgment in Chapter 16. This interlude focuses on several things that take place during the seven-year period. In our previous study, chapter fourteen, we saw the 144,000 Messianic believers from Israel standing with the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (14:1-5). In our view, this reminds believers from a Jewish heritage that God has not forgotten His promises to Israel and that He will bring forth a remnant from the twelve tribes of Israel. These Messianic believers that will come through the Great Tribulation were also described by the prophet Isaiah;
2On that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel's survivors. 3Whoever remains in Zion and whoever is left in Jerusalem will be called holy—all in Jerusalem who are recorded among the living—4when the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains from the heart of Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. 5Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a canopy (Isaiah 4:2-5).
Also in chapter fourteen, we saw angels giving warnings of judgment to those who take up allegiance to Satan and the Antichrist by worship, along with a call to repentance (vs. 6-13). Chapter fourteen closed with the harvesting of the wheat, i.e., the believers in Christ, and the trampling of the grape harvest, i.e., the judgment of those who refuse to repent. Chapter fifteen and sixteen focus on specific scenes of judgment with the pouring out of seven bowls of wrath. As we have said before in these studies, God will snatch up the godly before He pours out His wrath on those who refuse to repent (1 Thessalonians 5:9). John writes first of the scene of victorious believers in heaven singing praise to God:
The Song of Moses and the Lamb
1Then I saw another great and marvelous sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven final plagues, with which the wrath of God is completed. 2And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, beside which stood those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name. They were holding harps from God, 3and they sang the song of God's servant Moses and of the Lamb:
"Great and wonderful are Your works,
O Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the nations!
4Who will not fear You, O Lord,
and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before You,
for Your righteous acts have been revealed" (Revelation 15:1-4).
In verse one, John saw what he calls a marvelous sign in heaven: seven angels preparing themselves to judge the unrepentant on earth. This sign is the third sign John mentions. The other two were of the radiant woman in chapter 12, verse 1, with the second being the great red dragon (12:3). These signs point beyond themselves to marvelous truths of great significance. We are now looking at the turning point of history, i.e., the saints standing together in heaven and the beginning of the judgment of the unrepentant.
John saw for the second time a sea of glass. The first time was in Revelation 4:6, where he described the sea to be like crystal. In this second view of the sea of glass, it is mixed with fire. In the New International Version that I am using, verse 2 says that those who are victorious over the Beast and his image are standing beside the sea of glass; whereas, the King James Bible, the NASB, NKJV, and the NLT all translate that they stood on the sea of glass. We cannot be dogmatic about it, but John may be seeing a great multitude of believers standing before the Lord and reflecting His glory (like crystal), as well as a fire of passion and love for Christ for all He has done to redeem them to God. This symbol of the Body of Christ mixed with fire could speak of the Spirit of God in them and the overflow of their love for Christ blazing like fire:
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame (Song of Solomon 8:6).
Verse 2 tells us of those who had conquered the Beast and its image and the number of his name. What will the political pressure of the Antichrist look like in those days? What will the religious pressure look like, and what kind of pressure will be exerted by the number of Antichrist's name?
John then focuses on their worship and adoration of the Lord (vv.3-4). He called the song, The Song of Moses and was likely referring to the victory over the destruction of the Egyptian army as the Red Sea came upon them (Exodus 15:1-18). It could also be referring to the song Moses composed as the children of Israel were about to enter into the promised land (Deuteronomy 32:1-43). When John received the Revelation vision, these songs would have been known by the early believers in Christ. The song is about all nations coming and worshiping before God—how wonderful (v.4)! I can't wait to worship together with all of you from all over the world.
Describe what it will be like for those of that time to have no more warfare with the Antichrist, and know that they will be with Christ for eternity. What thoughts and emotions come to mind?
Preparation for Judgment
5After this I looked, and the temple—the tabernacle of the Testimony—was opened in heaven. 6And out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean and bright linen and girded with golden sashes around their chests. 7Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. 8And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed (Revelation 15:5-8).
John's attention focuses on the temple's opening and seven angels preparing to receive the seven bowls of wrath. One of the four living creatures before the Lord gives each of the seven angels a golden bowl with plagues with the responsibility to pour out the judgment plagues upon the world. The temple filling with smoke (v.8) was often a sign of the presence and glory of the Lord, and no one is allowed to approach, which could be indicative of the door of salvation shut and that God will allow no one to come to Him in intercessory prayer. When God's judgment was determined on Jerusalem by Babylon's army to destroy the city, Jeremiah the prophet was told not to pray for the unrepentant of Israel, for God would not hear and respond (Jeremiah 7:16). It is a somber moment when many will come to the door of salvation and find the door shut, and when those who refuse to repent protest that they can't get in, He will reply, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you" (Matthew 25:10-12). The time to repent is today, while the door is open.
The First Five Bowls of Wrath
1Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out on the earth the seven bowls of God's wrath." 2So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and loathsome, malignant sores broke out on those who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. 3And the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it turned to blood like that of the dead, and every living thing in the sea died. 4And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and springs of water, and they turned to blood. 5And I heard the angel of the waters say:
"Righteous are You, O Holy One,
who is and was,
because You have brought these judgments.
6For they have spilled the blood of saints and prophets,
and You have given them blood to drink,
as they deserve."
7And I heard the altar reply: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are Your judgments" (Revelation 16:1-7). 8The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. 10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done (Revelation 16:1-11).
The loud voice in the temple is more than likely the voice of God. The first four plagues fall on the natural world as if the creation itself was in revolt against the unrepentant of the earth, the earth, the sea, the rivers and springs, and the sun. It reminds us of Paul’s words to the church at Rome: “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). In rapid succession, judgment after judgment is poured out upon those who refuse to repent; instead, they curse the God who created them (v. 11). Mercilessly, they have spilled the blood of believers in Christ the world over, and now it is time for them to receive from God's hand what they deserve (v.6). Twice we are told that they refused to repent (vs. 9, 11), and even in their agony at their pains and sores, they curse God.
The Sixth and Seventh Bowl Judgment
12The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. 15"Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed." 16Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).
In this passage above, we see the driving force behind the dragon [Satan], the beast [Antichrist], and the false prophet, i.e., three evil spirits that look like frogs—swamp creatures that come out of the Satanic trinity and sent to the leaders of the nations of the world. They are called to gather for battle (v. 14). Much of what goes on politically in the world is being manipulated from the invisible realm by dark angels and evil spirits seeking to use people as pawns of control. You shall know them by their fruit, Jesus said (Matthew 7:16). As believers in Christ, we should view with skepticism what the world system tells us. We should look at things from a biblical world view and try to see what God is doing. More goes on behind the scenes than what is seen with the natural eye.
The sixth angel pours out his bowl upon the great river, Euphrates, making it possible for the armies of the east to make their way to the nation of Israel. When I say the word "Armageddon," what comes to mind? Most of us picture the final battle of the last days to be in northern Israel in the Valley of Jezreel, commonly called Armageddon, but is that correct? We don't read anywhere in the Scriptures of Jesus returning and fighting in that northern valley. Perhaps, it is time to look at the Hebrew word translated as Armageddon.
The word comes from two Hebrew words, "Har," which means a hill or mountain, with the second word being "Magedon," a place name presumed to be Megiddo's hill. Many scholars are looking afresh at this name, partly because there is no mountain at Megiddo. It is a tell, a mound of earth accumulated over the centuries to now be over seventy feet high—hardly a mountain. We cannot let our religious traditions interpret the Scriptures for us; there is no basis for believing that the last battle is in the north of Israel. In a personal time together, Bible teacher and writer Charles Cooper shared his thoughts on the place name with me, sharing them later in an Email. He wrote that the passage should be transliterated as it is in the below examples:
John 5:2 – Bethzatha (A pool)
John 19:13 – Babbatha (Stone pavement)
John 19:17 – Golgotha (The place of the skull)
John 20:16 – Rabboni (My Teacher)
Revelation 1:7 – Vai (Amen).
In the Word Biblical Commentary series, David E. Aune offers the following comments on the place name. He writes:
"The name "Harmagedon" has never been satisfactorily explained…The most common explanation of the name is that har is the Hebrew word for "mountain(s), hill(s)," while magedon refers to the biblical town of "Megiddo," with the entire construction meaning "mountain(s) of Megiddo. Megiddo was an ancient city located on a plain in the southwest portion of the Valley of Jezreel or Esdraelon, the site of several significant ancient battles…"
Charles Cooper carries on his thoughts further:
"Now you probably are guilty of the same thing that I was until just recently. Did you notice that Aune states that Megiddo is a city located on a plain in the Valley of Jezreel? Get it—a city on a plain (flat land) in the Valley! How in the world can the phrase Armageddon if it is the correct reading of Revelation 16:16, refer to a mountain? There is no reference in the entire Old Testament to a mountain with the name Megiddo. Not one!"
In trying for this study to be short and avoiding being technical, suffice it to say that some now believe that the Hebrew place name is Har Mo'ed, thus linking it to Satan's boast in Isaiah 14 that he would sit on the Mount of the Congregation; whereas, the Hebrew phrase har mo'ed is usually rendered as "Mount of Assembly." This writer believes that the last battle location to which the nations are drawn is to take place at the city of Jerusalem, where the Antichrist is reigning, and his image is set up in the temple of God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Perhaps, this is confirmed in verse nineteen in the below passage:
17The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!" 18Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible (Revelation 16:17-21).
How extensive is the devastation of the seventh bowl of judgment?
Verse 19 above speaks of a "great city" split into three parts because of a severe earthquake. This great city many believe to be Jerusalem because earlier in the text it is referred to as the place where Jesus was crucified: "Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city--which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt--where also their Lord was crucified" (Revelation 11:8).
Satan sends evil spirits to influence the world's leaders in gathering together to attack the city of Jerusalem. Let's talk about Jerusalem:
Jerusalem: the Problem City
The objective of the nations of the world is not to capture a valley but a city! Jerusalem is the city that has been a problem since its recapture by Israel in 1967. The Lord twice tells us that Jerusalem is His city (Isaiah 45:13; Lamentations 3:51). Jerusalem has always been a target because the enemy always seeks to kill and destroy whatever God earmarks as His own. Scripture tells us that, before the time of the end, Jerusalem will be a problem city:
2"I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves (Zechariah 12:2-3).
There are some things of interest in this passage. First, the nations of the world will be frustrated at their inability to sort out the problem of a Jewish state in the Middle East, and primarily as to who owns Jerusalem. Is it a Palestinian city, or is it a Jewish city? In 1980 Israel passed the "Jerusalem Law," proclaiming "united Jerusalem" as the Israeli capital, thereby annexing East Jerusalem. Only in our day is Jerusalem being recognized as belonging to Israel. Secondly, Jerusalem will be a problem not only for the Arabic nations around her but for all nations; it will be "an immovable rock." The third thing is that all nations are gathered against her. Doesn't it sound like the nations of the world advance for an attack on Jerusalem itself? The Lord Jesus will appear over Jerusalem just when it seems that all is lost. The people of Israel will begin to call upon the Lord. The Lord Jesus said: "For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Matthew 23:39).
The prophet Zechariah says:
8On that day the LORD will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the LORD going before them. 9On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. 10"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo (Zechariah 12:8-11).
Why do you think the Jewish people are weeping (v.11) at the intervention of the Lord against their enemies?
You'd think that there should be great rejoicing by the Jews as the Lord Himself steps in to shield those living in Jerusalem and fighting for them. So, why does verse eleven say they are weeping? It is clear from the text that the Messiah (Christ) Himself shows up, and the Jewish people recognize Him as the One pierced, crucified, and rejected by His people. What will be their response? There will be a time of great mourning and repentance.
The traditional place of battle between God and His enemies is Armageddon, but the scriptural evidence seems to point to an appearance at Jerusalem first. Let's explore further by looking at what the prophet Zechariah tells us about the gathering of all nations to fight:
1A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. 2I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. 3Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. 4On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. 5You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. 7It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime—a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light (Zechariah 14:1-7).
On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives to the east of the city of Jerusalem. It is interesting to know that the Mount of Olives has hundreds of Jewish graves waiting for the Messiah to arrive because of this prophecy. They believe the dead will be raised to life at the Messiah's appearance; they are not anticipating that this is Jesus, though. The Jewish people will get a big surprise to see the nail marks in His hands and feet and realize that their forefathers pierced Him. No wonder there will be great weeping.