The angels go forth to pour out the wrath of the Lamb on an unrepentant world. As we observe them we note that these plagues parallel those the Lord sent on Egypt in Exodus. At that time the entire land of Egypt was devastated by the plagues. Even though the Israelites dwelt in the land, the Lord kept them safe throughout. Once again that reminds us that the Lord will keep us safe from His wrath even while the world around us is being overwhelmed.
In addition we recall that the plagues of Egypt only served to harden the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Their magicians even attempted to mimic the plagues so as to belittle their significance and insult the Lord God. The same thing results when the 7 bowls are poured out. God’s judgment is designed to lead people to repentance, and indeed many will come to Him, as we have seen, because they have endured His wrath and fear Him. Yet ultimately millions more will only harden their hearts and continue to reject Him even to the point where they ignore or deny the evidence of their own eyes.
John indicates that these judgments will pour wrath on Babylon. His audience would have understood this to refer not only to Rome but also to the whole world system of humanity opposed to God which values cruelty, injustice, immorality, and idolatry all epitomized by Babylon. Thus we can understand that the judgments will afflict the spiritual forces that back up the world system and all those humans who subscribe to its tenets. This may be an indication that these signs are not necessarily to be taken literally, that they symbolize the whole range of violence, warfare and so-called natural disasters that occur today as they have for thousands of years all used by God to judge sinful humanity. Yet in addition it is likely that such events will increase in intensity and frequency on a broad scale as the return of Christ nears, as the fullness of the sin of mankind reaches its height and the history of the world nears its climax.
For we who are believers, we must be aware that we do not know when the Lord will return. Consequently, as Jesus warns us in verse 15, we must always be ready. We must always be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The problem is that many of us forget that. Every day we are tempted to compromise with the evil world system epitomized by Babylon and every day we fail. When we are so tempted we ought to remember that we should be standing clothed in the white robes of godliness, not in the shame of sinfulness. Then we will shun the ways of the world and their deadly appeal.
This last series of signs is not last chronologically but the last that John sees. The angels bearing the 7 bowls of God’s wrath appear in His Temple. The judgments that they will pour from these bowls are the same that we have seen in the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets. This indicates that the Lord’s judgments have occurred throughout history but may intensify just before the He returns. In the Temple, in God’s presence, we see the company of the redeemed. They give glory and praise to the Lord for His judgments because they demonstrate God’s awesome might, His wisdom and His righteousness. The redeemed praise God also because the judgments serve to vindicate them in the eyes of the dragon and his followers who afflicted them, proving that they are the Lord’s beloved. The Lord is greatly pleased by the praise so He responds by filling the Temple with His presence, symbolizing that He is with His people. He is always with those He loves.
We note that all this praise is in spite of the fact that the bowls of wrath will inflict much pain on the people of the world. That is something the world and many believers find unacceptable. Most people worship and praise God for His love and His salvation but not for His hatred of sin and immorality. They reject a God who judges sin and punishes evil unless they also hate and despise the ones so judged. They deny or ignore their own sinfulness preferring to believe that God accepts them the way they are. Yet because of sin and the rebellious hearts of the wicked, the way to the Promised Land, to heaven, is through violence and tribulation. God’s judgment is violent and the world will suffer great distress. Meanwhile believers will endure tribulation but not because of the wrath of God: we will be spared that which falls on the wicked. We will endure the wrath of the dragon. But the Lord will be with us to lead us to victory.
John’s next vision contrasts the mark which identifies the followers of the lamb with the mark the beast had sealed his followers. The Lord’s followers are depicted as a victorious army but one which has conquered not by means of military might or violence but through spiritual means, humility, love, faithfulness and righteousness. In order to properly engage in this spiritual warfare they must remain faithful to the Lord, with no divided loyalties. They must strive to keep themselves pure by shunning all forms of sexual immorality as well as any form of spiritual adultery which involves embracing, compromising with, or tolerating idols, false gods, false philosophies and theologies. They have rejected the world system and all that it values. Consequently they have suffered acute deprivation, persecution and martyrdom.
This vision confirms to us that the followers of the Lamb will endure much tribulation. They will lose all that the world values even their lives. They will seem to have been defeated while the followers of the beast will prosper, succeed and receive the adulation of their peers. But the vision of the winepress of God’s wrath shows us that the redeemed are the fortunate ones. The success of the wicked is temporary for the punishment, suffering and eternal fate is quite horrible. They will suffer God’s wrath while the redeemed enjoy eternal blessings. The realization of this eternal fate can drive many from their lives of immorality and materialism to the Lord for it shows them that the Lord is serious about sin and that He is able and willing to do all it takes to destroy it.
Thus we Christians have a responsibility to warn sinners of the danger they face. Someone warned us and we responded in repentance and submission to the Lord. Yet we must also give comfort and hope to those who are overwhelmed by their sin and guilt. We must tell them of the mercy of God who is always willing to forgive and transform individuals. That is the message of the gospel of grace that drove me and millions of other believers into the loving hands of Jesus Christ: love not fear; mercy not judgment; the blood of Christ, not my works. There is hope for this sinful world in Christ alone! And we ought to let everyone know it.
John describes how the dragon, the devil, makes war on the saints: by means of 2 ferocious and grotesque beasts. The first is composed of parts of the 4 beasts that the prophet Daniel spoke of (Dan. 7:3-8). His audience knew that this was the Roman Empire and all its values, a composite of all the empires that she had conquered. This beast also symbolizes the world system of evil, self-centeredness, social injustice, sexual immorality, materialism, violence and slavery. The head that was slain but came back to life is a blasphemous parody of Jesus, a deliberate statement that this is the antichrist. John’s audience may have understood this as a reference to Nero risen from the dead who it was rumored would return at the head of a Parthian army. The antichrist is represented by the number 666, again Nero. The boastful head represents every ruler who has arisen over the last 2000 years to abuse and slaughter millions of innocent people and stand in the place of God with claims of limitless power and invincibility. All such can be designated as antichrist. And all have gone down in defeat.
The second beast with 2 lamb horns is a sacrilegious parody of the Lamb of God who has seven horns. This beast functions as a type of high priest in the worship of the first beast. This beast represents all false religions, all pagan faiths, all who do not believe in Jesus as the only way to salvation. This would include even those who name His Name but speak and practice lies especially that of the equality of all religions.
This beast is able to work supernatural signs that deceive many as they mimic the miraculous signs that are manifested by the Holy Spirit through the church. The only way to distinguish the signs worked by the beast from those worked by the church is to observe the fruit of the life of the one performing the work as well as the message it conveys. Those which exalt the pride and ego of the person performing them are to be rejected. The signs and wonders worked by the church give glory only to God and are performed only to support the testimony of the saints as the truth.
The message to us then is not to accept all the false and flashy ways of the world even when they are presented with Christian and Biblical words and imagery. Many of the popular preachers and workers of miracles who are prominent in the media today are not from the Lord but are agents of the beast. We can tell this because many of them seek glory, fame, wealth and power for themselves by misinterpreting and misapplying God’s word out of context. All the glory and focus should be on the Lord God. In no way should the Lord’s servants profit materially from God’s true word and signs and wonders.
I did not watch the Academy Awards this year, or last year for that matter. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I saw it. I did not see any of the films.
I do appreciate that J K Simmons got an Oscar. He is a great character actor (IMHO). Loved him in Growing Up Fisher and as Jonah Jameson in Spiderman. But I think the whole Oscar process is, for the most part, a waste of time. It is marked by self-promotion, self-glorification, narcissism and massive egotism. We Americans worship celebrities. We give them more attention, honor and respect than we do to the Lord Jesus. That is idolatry. Jesus loves us and died for our sins. He extends forgiveness to all at great cost to Himself. He is greater than all the celebrities combined, greater than all human beings, yet loves us all and desires we come to Him.
The image of the dragon making war on the woman and her offspring is one that is surprisingly borrowed from common pagan mythology. This myth had been applied to the cult of the Roman Emperor who was seen as the offspring of Rome (personified as a goddess) who overcomes evil forces to become the divine savior of the world. The vision turns this around to show that it is Rome and the Emperor who are agents of the dragon who make war on the church. They will be defeated. Thus it is thought that the woman symbolizes the people of God, an illustration based upon Old Testament images. The sun, moon and the 12 stars which surround her indicate that she must be Israel (Genesis 37). The prophet Isaiah described Israel as a mother in labor or one who has given birth (Isa. 7:14; 26:18-19; 54:1; 66:7-10) as well as that of a bride (Isa. 62:5), an image we will also see explained later in Revelation as the entire people of God. The Messiah, Jesus the Savior of the world comes forth from Israel. So does the church. The dragon who represents the devil and his minions attempt to destroy them but God protects them both.
Thus the battle of the ages is a spiritual one that began when the devil and his agents rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven in defeat. The final outcome as far as Almighty God is concerned is certain victory, but the war continues. The devil wars on the people of God. His first and best weapon is temptation. He and his followers are adept at using it which is way it is so powerful and effective. Believers must be wary and alert for this weapon can lead them into sinfulness and compromise with the world, destroying their witness and making them ineffective for work of the kingdom of God. It worked quite well on Israel almost to the point where it seemed the devil would crush God’s plan of salvation. To combat temptation we believers must be in constant relationship with Christ through His Word, His church, His Holy Spirit and prayer so we may have the strength to help us resist in time of need.
Another weapon of the devil is composed of lies and false accusations. He is fond of reminding Christians of their sinfulness is order to demoralize them into depression and inactivity. But the blood of Christ shed on the cross is their assurance of their acceptance in God’s kingdom. The blood of Jesus, not our works or lack of them makes us right with God. The devil then uses the world and the nations to persecute and attempt to silence God’s people, but they overcome by their faithful and tireless proclamation of the gospel. This is his least effective weapon for though persecution looks pretty nasty and awesome it actually fosters the spread of the gospel.
The identity and ministry of the two witnesses and the meaning of all the symbols mentioned here are open to speculation. The images evoke several Old Testament passages. That there are two follows the Biblical rules of evidence which require the testimony of two to validate a charge (Deut 19:15). They are associated with the measuring of God’s Temple, that is, His faithful people (Ezekiel 40). The witnesses remind us of the two olive trees in Zechariah 3-4, Joshua the High Priest and the ruler of the Jews Zerubbabel, who remained faithful to the Lord in the midst of apostasy. The works which the witnesses perform parallel the works done by Moses who turned water into blood and Elijah who destroyed the prophets of Baal with fire from heaven. Thus it is likely that the 2 witnesses stand for all the faithful people of God, the church or at least those elements of the church who have not compromised with the world, who faithfully proclaim the word of God despite opposition.
The church as the faithful witness is the agent and messenger of the Lord God. He has commissioned her to proclaim not only the words of salvation and mercy but also of God’s wrath and judgment. He has also given the church great power and a great assignment so great that when she completes her mission to the fullest extent with her faithful proclamation and martyrdom, the 7th Trumpet sounds the fulfillment of God’s plan, the punishment of the rebellious and the beginning of His Eternal Kingdom. This means that at the present time the church (every believer) is to proclaim the message of salvation in Christ with boldness and conviction ignoring the opposition and violence the world may hurl at her (and us). We Christians are to faithfully testify to the truth even though its cost us dearly. After all what would be greater than to be with the saints to sing that song of praise in earnest when the last trumpet sounds?