Revelation 16 – Bowl Judgments

Read Revelation 16

The last series of seven judgments makes the end of the pouring out of God’s wrath on the world as well as the final defeat of Babylon, which has become synonymous as the center for evil and opposition to God in the world.  Looking closely, we can compare the first four bowl judgments with the first four trumpet judgments.  They are both similar in nature and draw their imagery from the plagues that we called down on Egypt.  Plagues of boils and sores, blood in the water, and impacts on the sun itself.

John makes a point of recording the reactions of the people of earth, those that worship the beast and are enemies of God.  Rather than turning to God and finding refuge and salvation in Him, they curse God because of the things that are happening.  Recognizing that God has the ability to not do these things, they blame Him for their own troubles which they have brought upon themselves by their allegiance to the beast.  This, to me, is strangely reminiscent of many conversations I’ve had about the love of God vs. the wrath of God.  When people, even Christians, experience hard times in life, rather than turning to God who can help them, they blame God for what is happening.  Here, however, is a different story.  In life, God allows us to face trials and struggles, not causing them but working in them to shape and mold us into the image of His Son (a process we call sanctification).  What John is seeing here is much different; a calamity that God authorizes in a last ditched effort to see some turn to Him while also punishing sin and evil in the world.  How are these different in our lives now?  It’s hard to say.

Much of the symbolism that is present here suggests the possibility of things that happen in our lives today.  Some, however, suggests a much greater calamity down the road.  The plague of blood on the water which people then have to drink is, or at least seems to be, a punishment for the crime of the oppression and killing of God’s people.  Fire is something that is often connected to judgment in Scripture, it both burns and purifies.  One thing is for sure, though, like all else, there is a great deal of wisdom that is needed here if we are going to link people’s personal struggles with the judgment of Revelation.  We have to be very careful when doing that or when looking at massive events like natural disasters as somehow being linked to things like this too.

As I have said before, the ultimate purpose of God’s work here is two-fold: the hope of bringing people to Himself and the punishment of evil.  God’s discipline is always restorative in nature; these judgments are not simply meant to kill people for killing’s sake.  When people say things like “hurricane Catrina was God’s punishment for all the ______,” we should be quick to question whether that is true; there is very little evidence in Scripture (none if you read it all within the context of itself) that would support God punishing just one type of sin over and above others.  Sin is sin; God’s punishment of sin is exhaustive and complete.  This, I think, is why we see in Revelation, the outpouring of all these judgments on the earth, the focal point of sin in the universe.  This is symbolized also in the dragon, the beasts, and the city of Babylon.

As we near the end of these judgments, not only are we seeing God’s last-ditched effort to draw people to repentance, we also see a final effort from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the other beast) to rally the enemies of God for one final battle.  C.S. Lewis describes a sort of “Armageddon” image in his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and it is compelling.  Though one thing that is different here is that no real battle takes place.  The armies of the opposition to God gather and then the final judgment is poured out and a voice from heaven says “It is done!”

When those words are spoken, we see many of the same images and symbols of God’s power and presence, like that of Mount Sinai; lightning, thunder, and earthquakes.  This final earthquake, though, flattens everything.  The image of this event echoes that of the words of Isaiah: “every mountain shall be made low, every valley raised up…”  These were the things that were going to happen that hailed the coming of the Lord; all obstacles would be removed.

In this event, even Babylon, the great city of evil, falls before the final judgment.  Here, we are left with the armies gathered and ready for the battle of Armageddon.  While this could be a specific geographical reference to a place known as “Megiddo,” it is more likely that this is symbolic for the final battle and overthrow of evil in the world.  Given that the entire world was flattened by the earthquake, geographical references don’t make much sense anyway.  Megiddo, however, is a place of great importance, being a very strategic location in Israel and the site of many battles throughout history.  John’s readers would have been familiar with the reference and would understand the meaning and importance behind mentioning such a place.  Suffice to say, the battle that is looming at the end of this chapter will be the last battle, a sign and symbol to us that evil’s existence in the world today does have a terminal date to it.  Of this, we can be certain.


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