TITLE: Revelation: Scene Five – Part One
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 13 AUGUST 2013 – Sunday AM
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In this section we are going to talk about the wrath of God. It’s amazing how we misunderstand this and sometimes have a very one-dimensional approach to God. For some people today, God is just about wrath, taking great delight in residing over the ant farm of the earth and squashing us all day long. Meanwhile, others believe that God is so sweet and that it doesn’t matter what’s happened or what he has written in his word, we’re all going to live in a wonderful eternity with him on our cloud with our harp (and an eternity of boredom).
Setting the context
In this part we’re looking at the fifth scene in the book of Revelation (Revelation 15…). Before we get into the details, let’s back up a little bit and remember the structure of the book of Revelation and its context.
John the Apostle is exiled on the island of Patmos and while praying for the seven churches (at the beginning of the book) the Lord gives him a revelation of these churches and a revelation of what believers can expect until the end. So the book is basically preparing us for the end.
So Revelation covers what happens from the first coming of Jesus to his second coming, telling us what we are meant to be doing today – the present Gospel Age. The book of Revelation has to mean something to us today. Jesus, through dying on the cross has given us the Gospel, the good news that you don’t have to be punished for your sin because he was punished for you. It’s only through the Gospel that we can face the second coming in confidence, faith and peace.
The book has eight scenes overall and in each there is a change of scenery, like at a play. Each scene also has seven “somethings” – starting with the seven churches, moving to seven seals of a scroll, seven angels blowing trumpets of warning and now seven bowls of wrath. The bowls / plagues of wrath come after the trumpets as the trumpets were about God’s warning that goes out.
This fifth scene we’re looking at now is possibly the harshest point of Revelation and it’s here that we talk of the wrath of God. John is having a vision and he sees God pour out his judgement and wrath on the earth through seven bowls / plagues.
After this, scene six, there are seven words of triumph and John is carried by an angel into the wilderness where he sees the harlot, called Babylon, dealt with. Remember, in the previous scene we were introduced to the dragon, Satan; the beast from the sea, which is pagan government; the beast from out of the earth, which is false religion; and Babylon, the Harlot, which is the seduction of sin. These are from Satan and his helpers. And we saw that those who bore his mark ‘666’ were those who had submitted themselves to the enemy and his systems. They are anti-christ and they will be dealt with.
Then we will see, in the end, the Great White Throne judgement when God judges everyone So finally in the end there will be a great white throne judgement and it’ll all consummate and be dealt with. But, along the way, God is blowing trumpets, warning, and he is going to be pouring out bowls on us until the end. The point is – he always warns first, giving us opportunity to repent. But then he comes and judges.
In the seventh scene we see seven visions of victory. Heaven is opened and John sees the triumphant Christ riding on his white horse and an incredible victory. Then in scene eight we see seven glimpses of glory and it ends with a new hope.
Why eight scenes? Because this lines up with the resurrection of Christ. The week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday and the next Sunday is the eighth day – the start of a new week. Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday and the church started meeting on Sundays in celebration of this and anticipation for the time when all things will be made new.
So it’s eight scenes because it points to a new beginning. That’s what we’re working towards; that’s the hope that God was putting forward to those seven churches in the beginning of the book of Revelation. As they would have read this prophecy they would have realised that in death we find our final triumph. As a result, they were able to lay their lives down as living sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. And that’s why we’re here today, to reach into the heart of God and say, “Lord, whatever it takes, we want this Gospel to go out, even to the point of death.” This is how the book of Revelation is meant to encourage us – this isn’t a book of science fiction!
The grand narrative here is that the Gospel will (and must) go out, but in that process there will be resistance. The enemy’s not going to lie down and do nothing – he has beasts and a harlot working for him; pagan governments and false religions and deceptive, seductive ways. He knows our weak points. You can’t live as close to the pleasure zone as possible, you will perish in your sin. The enemy knows us. The only way we can attain to this great high calling of Jesus is through the blood of Jesus and working out our salvation in God’s Spirit – through fear and trembling, not in a blasé way. Serve God and he will do that for you! He will deal with our hearts!
Now, with the seven trumpets, God’s warning went out to unbelievers and those who persecute his people. God is saying to them that they cannot carry on in this way. He loves his people, and the blood of those who have died is precious to God. He cares for them and warns the world that he is going to deal with them.
The beast and harlot are a peek into what’s going on the world today. We think it’s about money and political power, but it’s the dragon (Satan) manipulating his puppets to get his agenda done. He always wanted to kill Christ and didn’t manage to do so. Christ brought salvation and the devil hasn’t been able to deal with that either. So now he is trying to kill and destroy those who receive salvation. This was the forth scene.
Now it’s time for the fifth scene. God has blown his trumpets of warning and neither the enemy or the world have taken note, and God says that it’s time they receive their punishment.
Should we really speak of the wrath of God?
In Acts 20: 26 we see Paul tell the Ephesian elders that he taught them the “whole counsel” of God and is therefore innocent of any man’s blood. Nobody who ever sat under his ministry could say he “never told them so”. What is it easier to eat? Meat, potatoes, broccoli, or Malva pudding? Obviously the pudding. Because of the crowd and the desire to please people and get people to like them, often preachers won’t preach about the difficult stuff, like the wrath of God. But we need to understand it today.
We are going to look at the first four “bowls of wrath” in this section and look at the remaining three in the next part.
Revelation 15:5 – 16:9
5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes round their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives for ever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.
3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgements.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying,
“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgements!”
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Chapter 15, Verse 6 shows us the opening of a new scene (“After this I looked…”). The picture of the sanctuary and God’s glory is a picture of righteousness, holiness, glory and power. It’s very similar to what we see in Revelation 1 where Christ is revealed. What it’s showing us here is that this judgement that’s about to come, this wrath, is from the heart of God. Notice in heaven there is wrath and this wrath is a part of God’s nature. We’ll see why that is as we go on.
The end of verse 8 shows us that the time when we could intercede and pray for God to save others and God would listen. And there was a time the wicked would pray and he would listen. You might recall in Revelation 8:4 that the prayers of the saints were poured out like incense before God. But now the sanctuary of God is closed and there is no more intercession for the wicked; God will no longer listen to their prayers; the time for the wicked is over.
There comes a time when God has warned with trumpets and tried to appeal to people through those that he sends – those that preach the Gospel and even die preaching it (as was happening in the time this letter was written). But then there comes a time when he stops warning and pours out his wrath, for they refused to repent and listen.
Chapter 16, verse 1 shows us that this is serious. Remember the first time you got smacked at High School? How you sat there, outside the office, knowing that punishment was going to be dealt out with you? But it’s over with in a few minutes. But what about how people must feel as they wait outside the court-room, knowing that they’ve murdered someone, that they’re guilty, and in a few minutes they will go in and be sentenced to jail for the rest of their life? That’s hectic. But there’s one place you don’t want to be of all and that is guilty before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, because he will pour out his wrath. And when he does, he doesn’t stop half-way and say “shame. Your curdling cries are cutting my heart.” No, by the time God does this he would have given every person every opportunity to repent and receive him, but those that continue in their wickedness and continue to go after Satan and his plans and turn their backs on God, he will pour out his bowls of wrath without relenting.
So we see that the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. And painful sores broke out on those who worshiped the Beast and his image. Now please don’t relegate this to a science-fiction understanding of the end times. God loves every single person today, and he doesn’t want anybody to have sores and that kind of plague come on them. As long as we’ve got breath we are going to be motivated to preach his word and reach out in love. When I read this I don’t go, “Yes! I’m so glad! Sores! Because you deserve it!” I don’t look at mankind like that in any way. God is the judge and is just in everything he does. So don’t relegate this to some end time because this does happen today. The pattern here is that it gets worse and worse until eventually that bowl is poured out in its entirety.
There are seasons where we go through where we see a system rise, like Nazism, and then God judges that thing and it falls. The same happened with communism and every other form of pagan government – God will continue to sound out trumpets of warnings and every system of man, including the materialism that seems to be so accepted by everyone today but is a great evil in this world, will be judged and destroyed.
Materialism says we can be super rich but I tell you, in proportion, that for every one of the super-rich there will be thousands that will live in poverty. When we see what people do in the name of materialism it’s horrific. We dress it up. But God will judge it and sound out trumpets; we have to see that behind the scenes the enemy is fighting the people of God and wants to get them.
This is happening in the world today. We don’t have to wait for the end times to see God bring his judgement. God will sound trumpets of warning and eventually judge. There are consequences to what we do. Remember, we saw in the second scene of Revelation that God is in charge of history. Do you think that every consequence of evil is the enemy having fun? No, God is supreme, he knows the beginning from the end, and if we try and apply some kind of logical way to look at it we’ll fail every time.
What is our hope? Stay in Christ. If you’re not in Christ, make sure you make a decision and you stay there. That’s our motivation.
Sores. We think of aids as one of the examples that can be applied here. It’s horrific. But it spreads through adulterous, sexual relationships and promiscuity. You can now also get it through blood transfusions and many believers and innocents have died that way, but the point is that there are consequences to the things we’ve done. Not just in our individual lives, but our lives do affect others. See how sexual promiscuity has made aids such a problem! We can’t just carry on and hope everything’s fine, because those consequences are God’s bowls being poured out.
Verse 3 talks about the sea looking like the blood of a corpse, where every living thing died. That is quite chronic. And we will see that in the end, but up until then we are seeing some of that. Some parts of the Great Barrier Reef, which is supposed to be pristine in every way, is starting to decay. And you go to some of the third world islands, in the tropical zones, they’re just desert wastelands. You think of the pollution all over, oil spills, and the like. Everything that should have been a blessing to us we make into a curse. There are consequences to our way of life.
We see this continue in verse 4 – the rivers and springs became blood. You know in Gauteng there’s only one river that’s not classified as irrecoverable. Every one of our rivers is “level 7” polluted and cannot be recovered from sewage, mine waste and bad management altogether.
Note the end of verse 4. The angel says, “Just are you, oh Holy One.” We think, “But God’s loving. Surely he should just fix up the water quickly? And make sure every sewerage plant works again so we can keep doing these things?” No, God is just, “Who is and who was and brought these judgements.”
God brings judgements. We need to understand this part of his nature. He judges evil. It’s simple. We live in a broken world and God will judge man and his evil ways. The verse continues, highlighting how the wicked have spilt the blood of his people and how God gives these what they deserve.
When we fast-forward and get to the end we see evil and all the wicked thrown into a lake of fire which will burn for eternity. But up until then there are consequences for everything. God will give us what we deserve.
Verse 7 continues to talk about how God’s judgements are true and just. For us who understand his love, we know his love is true and just. But if we do not accept his ways and if we continue to live with reckless abandon, we will suffer his judgement. The consequences we see in the earth today of reckless, sinful living are just reminders of what’s coming in a fuller, bigger way. Remember, the book of Revelation has an upwards spiral about it – we see things happen through history in a little way and then they repeat in a bigger way, on and on, until they come climaxing towards the end, when the final consummation of everything takes place. But let all of these spirals be a warning.
In Luke 13 a tower (the tower of Siloam) fell and killed 14 people and they asked Jesus that, if there were believers there, where was the justice? They asked him, “How can you let a tower fall on these people, Lord?” Today, we ask things like, “How can you let the Tsunami kill believers?” But, I tell you, these are signs to us – if they’re believers, they’re with him anyway. But these are signs to us that point to our need to understand that he is in control, and he will judge all evil, and that we need to turn to him.
In verse 8 we see the sun scorch people with fire, but what’s amazing here is that, even now, people will still not repent or give glory to God. There are people today where that happens and they’ll still not give glory to God, ever.
I know we do see some of the first signs of this – solar flares; the so-called Global Warming (if it’s true); and all these tell us that we’re not as safe as we first thought. Life is precariously balanced. But Jesus is in control. And the important thing to understand is that God has a bigger agenda here. Of the seven billion people currently populating this earth, while they have breath and can hear the warning of this prophecy, they have an opportunity to repent and receive Christ. But there will come a day at the end where there’s no more place for repentance and they will die and live an eternity without him in a state of torment.
So let’s try and understand the wrath of God. Does it bother you? It should. But it’s his nature. He has to punish sin. Because he is a righteous God. John 3:16 talks of how God loved the world that he gave his only son. His appeal to us is love, but the consequence of not accepting his love is wrath, because of sin.
God proved his love to us by sending his son. Through this process of our fallen world God is gathering to himself a people that want to be with him. In the end, he will deal with rebellion, but no one needs to perish at that time – all can turn to him. You do not have to endure the wrath of God. If you believe in Jesus, God’s wrath will not fall on you.
It’s important that believers get this truth out! God loves and God has wrath. So for believers, what have we got to look forward to at the second coming of Christ? Our rewards. We’re going to be with him forever. We cannot lose our salvation because that’s what God has given us already, but we can lose what God wants to give us. So what does he want to give us? Rewards. Try and imagine that day when he calls out your name and there, in front of all of the believers, all of heaven, all of the angels, he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter in to your rest and take that as a reward.” What an awesome moment.
Or, will it be an awesome moment for you? Will it instead be a moment when you gnash your teeth as Jesus says, “You hid your talent. You didn’t use it.” See this is the purpose of why we’re preaching this message, to help the believers use what God has given them. You can’t be motivated to get on with God’s work by us teaching you that you are going to lose your salvation. If you’re saved you are always a son or daughter or God, just a naughty one if you’re not serving God. So you need to repent and sort out your life. But I don’t want to approach the end with no reward, I don’t want him to say, “You wicked servant” to me.
That’s why, in this Gospel age, let’s strip all the nonsense away and understand things in real terms. There is one thing that’s important: there are more than seven billion people on this earth and they need to hear about Jesus Christ. He has given us gifts and talents so that we can make a difference in this Gospel age. The Book of Revelation was never written to be a sci-fi series to entertain us! It highlights a very real battle that we’re in and if the enemy can get you to lose your inheritance (your reward) he has succeeded to some degree.
But if you don’t know Jesus
If you don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, you need to understand that at the end (or at your death) you are going to be separated from God forever in agony, because God judges sin. If you are a believer, Christ has become the wrath of God for you – on the cross he bore the wrath of God and the full judgement of your sin was laid on Christ. That’s why, if you’re not a believer, you need to take this seriously, accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord, because then when you come to that Great White Throne judgement he will say of you, “not guilty.” But if you reject Jesus, he will pronounce you guilty.
Whether you’re 12 years old or 6 years old, or 92 years old, you need to put your faith in Jesus now. Have you got hope? Breathe. Did you feel anything? As long as you’ve got breath you’ve got hope, because you can accept Jesus.
Challenge for leaders
The other challenge is we don’t want you, if you’re a Christian leader, to get to that place and gnash your teeth in regret at a reward that could have been yours. You need to become one who is active in the Kingdom of God. It’s not about survival, hanging on until the end, just making it through. No, I want to heap up rewards for myself. How do I do that? That’s why leaders are here – we want to talk to you, we want to help you and show you how to live your life deliberately, so when you die you die with purpose and then they don’t write on your tombstone: “Whatever.” I think for some of us our tombstone will read, “He breathed and then he stopped.”