The true Lamb and His followers stand in stark contrast to the evil trinity we have just seen. The lamb is standing on Mount Zion. This is a synonym for the earthly Jerusalem, focusing on the hill where the temple was built. In the Old Testament, Mount Zion was the first fortress of the Pre-Israelite city of Jerusalem. In both Hebrews 12:22 and here in Revelation there is debate as to whether this is a reference to the earthly or heavenly Mount Zion. With the Lamb were the 144,000. They had on their foreheads the name of the Father. This is a contrast to those who followed the beast and were marked with his name. Some debate whether or not this sign or name was visible to all or only to those in heaven and in the new earth and heaven. Again, John heard a great and mighty sound, this time like the roar of ocean waves, or the rolling of loud thunder. And there were many harpists playing their harps. This was the sound of a great choir, singing a new song. It was most likely the one that we saw in 5:9-10 that was sung before God’s throne. Since that song is about redemption and victory in Christ only those already in heaven and those redeemed from the earth, like the 144,000 are allowed to learn it.
These 144,000 are the ones not defiled with women. These warriors are ritually pure or unpolluted, and morally without blame. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins. Referring to men as virgins is a metaphor for the faithfulness of God’s people. This image could refer to the church as the virgin bride of Christ. It also suggests that the church constitutes soldiers in a holy war that are required to keep themselves chaste. They are a reminder that redeemed believers will not compromise with evil. They will reject false doctrine and refuse to worship the beast. In the New Testament the first fruits are the first part of a crop to be gathered, implying a much larger harvest to come later. At such times, the term emphasizes only the sanctified nature of a sacrifice. The commitment of the 144,000 to God emphasizes that they are the holy ones, set apart to God. However, the continuing offer of the gospel and the harvest imagery also implies that many others will come to faith in Jesus Christ. These faithful people are a special offering who have been purchased for God. They have told no lies. John teaches that liars never enter heaven. (John 8:44, Revelation 21:8,27, 22:15). These 144,000 were not sinless in their earthly lives but they were without deceit and fault with regards to their testimony regarding Christ. In particular they did not participate in falsehood because they rejected the lie of the antichrist. They were without fault or blemish because they refused the mark of the beast.
From verses 6-13 three angels are flying through the sky with messages from God. The first angel proclaims the Good News, which includes the message that God will sit as judge. The end Is near, so this message provides a last chance summons to repent and believe. This angel who preaches to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people helps to fulfill God’s promise that the gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations (Matthew 24:14) before Christ returns. The word gospel, which means Good News, is used only here in the Book of Revelation. But look; even at this late stage in God’s judgement He continues to offer everlasting life to the world. The gospel message at this point begs unbelievers to fear God and give glory to Him so they can escape the hour of His judgement. Some responded to the miracle of the resurrection of the two witnesses. Some believe the activity of this angel is occurring behind the scenes, prompting a worldwide proclamation of the gospel by those who will declare the truth even at the cost of their lives. The angel also tells people again what God has done in creating the heavens, earth, sea, and all the springs of water.
Another angel proclaims part of the bad news of judgement to those among all nations who will not receive the good news of the gospel. Babylon is first mentioned in Revelation here and it becomes the focus of God’s judgement in the following section (16-18). Babylon is no doubt a cryptic description for Rome, and it represents earthly power and corruption. The coming of God as judge includes the end of earthly powers. Here the great city is Babylon. Earlier the great city was most likely Jerusalem. Next comes a third angel. This angel announces with a loud voice, God’s judgement on the counterfeit worship of the beast and his statue. This is the tragic eternal destiny of the one who rejects the offer of the gospel and worships the beast. God’s response to the rebellion against His reign is anger or wrath, pictured as a cup of bitter wine. It is poured full strength. This is significant because in the first century world wine was mixed with water because the water quality was so horrible. Only when someone wanted to get drunk did they drink wine without water. Now God’s wrath will be experienced full strength by those who follow the beast. This is the worst possible outcome for non-believers. Even worse, their torment will also include fire, burning sulfur and smoke. This description of judgement echoes God’s judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah. Those condemned to a fiery end will suffer for all of eternity and in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The torment will never end. The threat of persecution and death was very real to the Christians first reading this letter so John calls God’s people to obedience and faithfulness. The patience of the Saints here echoes 13:10. Those who patiently keep the faith of Jesus and the commandments of God even in very difficult times will receive a special divine blessing.
Again, a dramatic voice from heaven instructs John to write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” God desires that those who endure persecution be with Him and enjoy His blessings and rest. This is the second of seven beatitudes in Revelation. Six of the seven are clustered in the latter third of the book, perhaps as promises to encourage exemplary Christian response in the extremely difficult circumstances of the end times. The mention of hard work and good deeds in connection with eternal reward foreshadows the assigning of rewards based on works. “From now on” may mean from the point in the tribulation John is referring to, or from the time John was writing to the original readers. Spiritual rest is available to anyone who comes to Jesus Christ in faith. The martyrs under the fifth seal had been told by the Lord to rest a little while longer until God’s plan was complete. Here the believers who have died are also told to rest from their labors, in the knowledge that their good works will be remembered and rewarded.
What follows is the harvest of the earth. The reference to the Son of Man with a gold crown on His head indicates this figure is Jesus Christ. A gold crown is a symbol of status or power, clearly distinguishing Jesus from the angels. Some hesitate to make this identification because it seems strange that another angel gives the one like the Son of Man the command to reap. But there is no impropriety in having a representative of God the Father entrust judgement to the Son of Man. The sharp sickle was the primary tool for harvesting in the ancient world. Since the 144,000 have been received by God as the first fruits of His harvest, the rest of the harvest of the earth is surely ripe for salvation, as well as judgement. Here the temple and altar represent God’s presence. The power of the Son of Man(Jesus Christ) is shown in that with one thrust of His sickle, the harvest of the earth is reaped. This pictures the events of chapters 16-19 as parts of one rapid succession of judgement. This judgement is experienced by inhabitants of the entire world.
Another angel came from the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. He is placed in charge of the harvest of the clusters of grapes that are also ripe, meaning worthy of judgement. There is another angel at the altar who has power over fire. This could well be the angel in 8:3-5. Perhaps the fire will burn the tares separated in the harvest. A wine press was a trough in which workers trampled grapes with their bare feet, causing the juice to flow down into a vat. This common Old Testament sign of God’s wrath and judgement also explains how the “wine of God’s wrath” is produced. Wine presses were built outside cities and towns and here the city is Jerusalem. The image of the wine press is symbolic of an unbelievable quantity of blood shed which points to an unparalleled slaughter of life. The bloody River of death stretched nearly 180 miles and it was deep as a horse’s bridle was high. This is mass destruction. God’s enemies do not stand a chance when the Son of Man comes in judgement. The carnage here is linked closely with the final battle in Revelation 19:17-21. God is just and fair in giving people exactly what they deserve.
Chapters 15-16 form the third and final cycle of seven judgements. They are introduced with a vision of God’s victorious people singing a hymn of praise. Then a scene of the temple is presented from which angels emerge carrying the bowls of God’s judgement upon the earth. This cycle of seven last plagues brings God’s wrath against His enemies to completion. John calls this another sign of great significance. A sea of glass is mentioned in 4:6 as a place of worship before the throne of God. Here it is seen mingled with fire, often a sign of God’s judgement. The fire shows that the wrath of God acting in judgement has reached its zenith. The sea of glass also serves as a victory stand for all of the overcomers. Those who have victory over the beast are believing martyrs who “did not love their lives to death.” Others see the sea mixed with fire as victory through testing. Those who had been victorious over the beast hold harps that represent ultimate peace. Their place on the glass sea symbolizes their endurance in the fire of persecution. The song of Moses and the Lamb signifies that God’s will is united in the old and new covenants. The song is a reference to Exodus 15:1-18. This remembered the great Old Testament redemption of Gods people from slavery in Egypt. The song of the Lamb compares the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ with God’s deliverance in the Exodus. The song recognizes that God is all powerful. For persecuted Christians this is a message that brings comfort and security. The fact that John uses three names for the Lord places great emphasis on just how mighty and powerful He really is. John also reminds people that God is both just and true. This is the foundation of human integrity in the midst of a confused, unjust, and dishonest world. God is the King of the nations…all of them. He is not some localized deity attached to one nation or a human monarch with limited ability. Verse 4 begins with a rhetorical question that assumes that only a fool would fail to do so. God alone is holy and that is the basis for our worship and salvation. All nations will worship God. Some will be forced to acknowledge God, but all will recognize that God’s deeds and judgements have been revealed and are righteous and just.
God’s tabernacle implies His presence and even the plagues have their source in God’s presence. Christ’s sacrifice removed the veil between God and humanity. Now those who do not belong to Christ experience the full force of God’s presence. The heavenly temple of the tabernacle links the powerful imagery of heavenly temple with the strong parallels in chapter 15 to the Exodus period when the majestic presence of God is seen clearly in the tabernacle. In the new heaven and earth, the tabernacle of God will be with believers because He will dwell eternally with them. Seven angels came forward to administer the seven plagues, which are the last plagues God will send forth before Christ returns. These angels were wearing robes of bright white linen with gold sashes across their chests. White linen is a symbol of purity. It was also worn by the priests when performing their duties. These angels are not about intercession. They have come as agents of judgement. The linen therefore represents the purity and justice of God’s judgement. The gold sashes symbolize their divine mission as ministers of justice on God’s behalf. The gold bowls were like the offering pans that were used in ancient worship and were similar to those holding incense representing the prayers of the people. The smoke that filled the temple had its source in the power and glory of God and it prohibited access into the most holy place.
In chapter 16 we see all seven bowls of the seven final plagues of God’s judgement and wrath. With the seventh bowl “it is finished” is shouted from God’s throne. These are the same words Jesus used just before He died on the cross. The loud voice that begins this chapter Is God’s. No one was allowed into the temple until the seven plagues had been poured out upon the earth and its inhabitants.
The first bowl is poured out and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who bore the mark of the beast. This is very similar to the sixth plague in Egypt. (Exodus 9:9-11) Just as God’s great power could not be denied by the Egyptians and their magicians, so unbelieving people will be unable to deny God’s sovereign justice as the bowls of God’s judgements rapidly progress.
The second and third bowls are similar to the first plague in Egypt where water was turned to blood. Perhaps John had in mind that much of Rome’s food and wealth came by way of the sea. After Julius Caesar rid the sea of pirates, shipping became Rome’s lifeblood. Its end would mean economic ruin for the empire. The second bowl turns the sea to blood just like the second trumpet but then only one third of the water was affected. This bowl brings about the death of every living creature in the sea. The scope here is global. The third bowl is also like the third trumpet and targets springs and rivers. The effect here is also worldwide. The angel who had authority over the waters may well have been the same angel who poured out the third bowl. Angels and archangels are portrayed as having special roles in the hierarchy of heaven. This angel confirms these judgements as coming from God, who is both just and holy. Punishment of God’s enemies is just reward because they killed God’s holy people and prophets. Because they have shed blood, now they must drink blood. The principle of “lex talionis” , the law of retribution, was the basis of both Roman and Jewish jurisprudence. This means God is completely just in judging and rewarding people on the basis of what they have done. The voice from the altar was an antiphonal response to the angel’s proclamation in verses 5-6. This affirms God’s authority and justice. This doxology in the midst of judgement reminds persecuted Christians that God truly cares about His suffering servants and fulfills His own purpose in everything.
The fourth bowl is unlike any of the plagues of Egypt or the earlier seals or trumpets. Everyone was burned by the powers and fire of the sun. Unlike the fourth trumpet where the sun is diminished, here it is intensified. However, the people refused to repent of their sins. They would not turn to God or give Him glory. The evil one wields great power and once he gets his claws into people it is very difficult to get away. In fact, the people who were burned by the sun actually cursed God. Wow! They cannot argue against the power of God or His existence, but they will not acknowledge Him.
The fifth bowl is focused against the throne of the beast referring to his worldwide kingdom and authority. This is the only place in Revelation where the throne isn’t referring to the one the Lord sits on. John could be referring to Rome here, the political power at that time. Rome’s empire spanned the sea and ruled the world. This plague caused the beast’s kingdom to be plunged into darkness, similar to the ninth plague in Egypt and to the fourth trumpet though this is much more extensive. The evil one’s subjects literally ground their teeth and gnawed their tongues in anguish. Some of these pains and sores may have been similar to the five months a of scorpion sting during the fifth trumpet judgement. But again, they cursed God in heaven for their pains and did not repent.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River and dried it up. This was the largest River in Mesopotamia and it stood between Babylon and Israel, and it also formed the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. If it dried up it would allow kings from the east to move their armies westward with little resistance. From John’s Jewish perspective these armies would always be identified with Mesopotamia rather than China or India which were farther east. The sixth trumpet also involved the Euphrates. Both judgements deal with demonically inspired military forces. The army of 200 million will kill a third of all humankind (9:18), and the army here will do battle against God. This plague brought three evil or demonic spirits that looked like frogs. They are agents of deceit and represent the demonic role of the evil trinity. These three evil spirits had the authoritative words of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. There is great deception in their signs that are used to persuade the kings of the earth to gather together for battle against the Lord. It is interesting to note that in 6:15-16 the kings of the earth recoil in fear before the judgement of the Lamb. Now the kings of the earth no longer fear the Lord. They are ready to fight Him. In verse 15 readers are warned to look! because the Lord will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night. Being ready for His coming requires preparation. Those who are not prepared will miss out. This is followed by the third beatitude. Those who are blessed are the ones who are ready so they will not be caught unprepared. The demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to one place; called Armageddon or Harmagedon. This is most likely from the Hebrew “har” meaning mountain or hill, and Megiddo which was one of the three cities Solomon fortified. The fortress of Megiddo stood on a hill in the largest pass through the Carmel Mountain range, strategically guarding the Jezreel Valley. Many armies used this route and the site became a bloody battlefield. It became a symbolic term epitomizing the final conflict between God and the forces of evil. Some believe that this is not an actual place but a symbol of the final battle between good and evil.
The seventh bowl is the climax of all of Revelation’s judgements. A mighty shout came from the throne saying, “it is finished!” just like Jesus on the cross. This is God’s final act of judgement before Christ comes. The enemies of God had assembled themselves for battle but when the moment comes God announced it was done. Judgement was complete. NO ONE can fight God. So, this scene pictures an end to rebellion against God. What remains are various descriptions of the end. The catastrophic events of this judgement scene recapitulate (summarize and state again) the scenes portraying the destruction of the world. They also foreshadow the final judgement when the earth will be dismantled to make way for the new creation. The great city of Babylon seems to be the epicenter of the most destructive earthquake the world will ever see. The quake seems to be worldwide wreaking havoc on the cities of the nations. Babylon had not been forgotten before God. Here God acts on His earlier promise that Babylon would fall and that the cup of His wrath would be dispensed. Babylon here could refer to several different things. It may refer to the ancient city rebuilt, or it can be a symbolic name for Rome. It may also refer to any proud human society that attempts to exist apart from God. Babylon’s classic manifestations of rebellion against God are the Tower of Babel and the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar. In addition to the massiveness of the earthquake, huge hailstones fell from heaven, weighing 75 pounds, which is a talent. And, despite the severity of these plagues the people of the world still refused to worship God, cursing Him instead. The terrible hailstorm is a reminder of the seventh plague on Egypt. Seventy-five pound hailstones would be phenomenally destructive.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.