An exposition of Revelation 15:1-16:21. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, October 12, 2008.
We live in strange times. The world is changing rapidly. With the recent economic woes and the events of the last couple of weeks many are wondering if this is the beginning of the end. We face uncertain times and uncertain times tend to drive people toward prophetic questions. What’s in our future? Is our current crisis part of biblical prophecy? Will this economic collapse play into the hand of some yet to be revealed leader who will preside over a one-world government? What about the rapture? Does this mean we’ll be “taken out” soon? The fact is we are spoiled. We have enjoyed such a prolonged period of religious peace in the western world that we think we are entitled to peace. Weassume that we are not to suffer. That the church will not go through tribulation. Tell that to the Christians of the Sudan. Tell that to the Christians of China. Tell it to the Christians of North Korea. According to an article from World Magazine published in April of 2007 the North Korean government kills 300 people a year because of their faith. An estimated 50,000 believers live in the squalid surroundings of Kim Jong Il’s gulag. One Christian man was hung upside down by the local warden who demanded that he deny his faith in Christ. Refusing to do so, the warden “pushed him to the ground, ordering 6,000 prisoners to trample him to death.” Eight more had molten iron poured over them when they refused to deny the existence of heaven. Others are deliberately crippled, left naked, and starved. Why such violent opposition to non-violent prisoners? The answer is simple – Kim Jong Il is considered a god. The fact is God’s people have suffered from the beginning. Believers in every age have had to faced the wrath of the dragon and his beast. It is naïve at best to think we would never be forced to walk the martyr’s path. The promise of God’s word is not that we will never suffer but that we will never suffer alone. The promise is not that we will not taste the bitterness of persecution but that we will emerge victorious even if through death. John, the aged bishop of Ephesus and beloved apostle, was given a glimpse of things to come. He was told to write what he saw and send it to the churches of Asia Minor. It was a message of hope and encouragement from the Lord of the Church to his struggling saints. They were the victims of intense persecution. It seemed Rome could do whatever she wanted. Caesar seemed to live above the reach of justice. As far as the church could tell the world was going to hell in a hand basket and Rome was immune from prosecution. Rome marched on undaunted and the church was on the verge of annihilation. But the Lord of the church said, “Hold on. That’s not quite right. You’ve got things backwards. The church is on the march and Rome is heading to her doom.” The message to the church was – you will overcome. And you will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony. Chapters 15 & 16 of Revelation tell of the final pouring out of God’s judgment on the ungodly. Its vivid language tells a horrifying tale and it serves as our text this morning.
Text: Revelation 15:1-16:21
It has been my position all along that this book meant something to those who first received it. It was not just a foretelling of the distant future. Rather it was an encouragement and an inspiration to that first century audience. Yes it does speak to the end of the age. Yes it does speak of the final outpouring of God’s judgment and the end of the world, as we know it – but it says that in a context that spoke then as well as now. The spirit of antichrist was alive and well in the first century as John makes clear in his
other letters. That same spirit has reared its ugly head in every age and will until that ultimate and final appearance at the end of time. This is apocalyptic language its vivid images and fantastic sights are intended to convey a greater truth. The red dragon is not a literal beast with 7 heads it is the symbolic representation of Satan, the god of this world, who is hell bent on destroying God’s work in the earth. The beast is not a literal beast but represents men who, empowered and inspired by Satan dare to defy God. If we are not careful we will be so busy cataloguing trees we will fail to notice the forest! The book of Revelation is not intended to settle your curiosity about the future but rather to inspire you to live your faith in the face of hostility, confusion, heartache and struggle. It is a book for pilgrims reminding us that this is not our home. Our text today speaks to those who wonder if righteousness pays. It certainly seems that the unrighteous do quite well while the godly suffer. When you look around and see wickedness and immorality at every turn and yet you see godly men and women slaughtered for their faith it is natural to ask, “What is wrong with this picture?” It is understandable that some would think, “This is not right.” You would need some assurance that things are not as they seem. You would need to know that God has things under control. As we explore these two chapters we are going to discover that…
Thesis: The visions of Revelation 15 and 16 reveal the horror of God’s final and ultimate judgment and the stubborn defiance of man’s sinful heart.
Let me point out three things quickly.
- God’s final and ultimate judgment flows from His holy character and is His righteous response to the violation of His holy law. (15:1, 5-8)
What will be made abundantly clear as we walk through the bowl judgments is that God’s mercy is forgotten, His compassion is withheld, and His patience is suspended. The seals and the trumpets allowed for the possibility of repentance but no more. God is coming in judgment of the unrighteous in answer to the prayers of the saints and in the execution of His divine wrath! God’s love is not without limits. His grace is not boundless. You cannot live in open rebellion to His will with impunity.
- The judgment of God will come swiftly with devastating consequences. (16:1-9, 12-20)
This is not a slow pouring of dripping but a sudden splash. These plagues are given in rapid fire and carry great devastation. Picture it as a fighter who staggers to his feet only to be felled again! Again I think we need to be careful of trying to make each image correspond with something physical on the earth. This is apocalyptic and its intent is to speak of devastating and debilitating judgment. When I say this may be figurative rather than literal I’m not suggesting it won’t be as bad – quite the contrary I think reality is always worse than a sign! There is no escaping. God’s judgment is swift, devastating and universal. The judgments before were limited. The seals touched a fourth of the earth; the trumpets a third of the earth; the bowls affect the whole earth. God will settle every issue of justice. No rebel, no unbeliever will escape. The only place of refuge from God’s wrath is where God has already spent His wrath – upon His Son at the cross.
- The devastating judgment of God will not penetrate the hardened heart of the ungodly. (16:10-11, 21)
This is one of the most disheartening passages in the Bible for me. In spite of repeated blows. In spite of God’s severe judgment the stubborn heart of man refuses to yield to God’s rule. Sinful man’s only hope is the call of God’s grace.
Quickly before I close look back in chapter 15 at verses 2-4 for a contrast with the state of the ungodly. This is another of those texts that force you to deal with where you stand in relation to the living God. Which future is yours? A future of judgment and cursing or of joyful worship?