Last time, if you will recall, we saw the preparation in Heaven for the pouring out of the final series of judgments on the earth and its inhabitants. This will be the concluding event completing a set of three groups of seven judgments each. At this point in the seven-year Great Tribulation people would have experienced the seven seal judgments, and the seven trumpet judgments. As we stated last time, the seventh seal contained the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet will contain the seven vial judgments. In the last chapter the Lord handed seven vials (literally, “bowls” from the Greek, phiale, a broad shallow cup or saucer) to seven angels who will in turn pour them out on the earth. It is important to note that Jesus Himself will be in charge of the carrying out of all of these judgments, and He will be in control the entire time. It will appear to be totally chaotic on the earth from man’s perspective, however our Sovereign God will be in charge. None of this will come as a surprise to the Lord.
John, the beloved Apostle, is given a front row seat to the entire event. I am reminded of the words of Jesus when the Apostle Peter asked Him concerning John’s future assignment. Jesus said, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? [John 21:22, 23 KJV] I always found this passage a bit puzzling. However, as we come over to the book of Revelation and consider that which John experienced while banished on the isle of Patmos, Jesus’ meaning becomes clear. What do I mean by that? If you will recall, following the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, in the very first verse of chapter 4 we read, After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. [Rev. 4:1 KJV]
Many see this, and I would agree with this interpretation, as a picture of the catching away of the Church following the close of the Church Age, typified by the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom Jesus sent the seven letters. While this is a picture of the rapture in my opinion, I believe it had a more immediate application to John and the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in John 21. John sees a “door” opened in Heaven. “Door” is from the Greek word, thura, which is a feminine noun found some thirty-eight times in the NT; and is translated “door” 28 times, “doors” 9 times, and “gate” 1 time (Acts 3:2). This word could also be translated as, “a portal”. It is a literal opening. The language here suggests that John saw this door, this portal, open “in heaven”. There are other instances in scripture when it is said that Heaven is “opened”. [See Ezek. 1:1, Matt. 3:16, Acts 7:56; and Acts 10:11] In all of these references, heaven is literally opened. It is the same here for John. I believe that what John sees is an opening in the dimensional barrier separating the natural and physical realms. He is ushered into the realm of God. He entered the realm which transcends time as we know it. What do I mean by that? Simply that we, as well as all past generations live and have lived at a set place in time. At an established place on a time-line, if you will. God does not operate on a time-line. He can enter and leave the time-line whenever He wills to. This is how Heaven operates. Upon entering the “door” or portal, John entered the realm of the Spirit, and even though he lived in the natural realm at the time of his writing of the book of Revelation in approximately 96 A.D., he is transported to a time that is still future to us almost 2,000 years later! That is rather mind boggling when you stop to ponder it, yet I believe that is exactly what John did.
John literally, I believe, sees the rapture of the Church, the rise of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation period, the battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, the Kingdom Age, and the perfect Age to come; and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit records it all for the Body of Christ for all ages in the book of Revelation. [For an exhaustive study on time and how it relates to the events of the Bible, especially Bible prophecy, please see Gary Stearman’s wonderful new book, Time Travelers of The Bible – How Hebrew Prophets Shattered The Barriers of Time-Space – http://prophecyinthenews.com].
John sees what is happening from the perspective of Heaven. Seven angels with their seven vials are commissioned to empty the contents of each of their vials on the earth. As they do, as we shall see, there is a corresponding action or manifestation on the earth. I believe that those who dwell on the earth at this time will be totally oblivious as to that which is transpiring. The greatest minds from medicine and science will no doubt confer with one another to find a cause for the things occurring, but it will be to no avail. John can see why these things are occurring. They are a result of the action of the angels. The chapter begins,
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. [Rev. 16:1] Again, we need to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is in charge throughout this time. This “great voice” I submit to you belongs to Him. Back in chapter 5 Jesus, the Lamb, is the only one found worthy in Heaven or earth to open up the seven sealed scroll and reveal its contents, thus beginning this series of sevens. He remains in control here. These angels leave the Heavenly Temple to go to the earth to pour out each of their bowls. The “earth dwellers” at that time won’t have the slightest idea what is happening or why it is happening. I am quite sure there will be many who will pontificate on various news programs in an attempt to explain the terrible plagues afflicting the earth and those who dwell there. The source will be none other than the great God of Heaven who will strike the earth in great anger at this time. The prior judgments, the seals and trumpets, were delivered with a great deal of deliberation. That will not be the case with these final judgments. They will occur in the final months of the Great Tribulation. We are not told the duration of each plague, but when they begin to be poured out they will occur with rapid succession.
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshiped his image. [Rev. 16:2 KJV] The first angel pouring out his vial (bowl) will occur in the unseen realm, however its affects will definitely be felt, seen, and experienced in the seen realm. This first plague will affect a select group of people. It will fall on those who will have taken the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. This first plague is described in the Authorized as a “noisome and grievous sore” that will break out on the beast worshipers in the final months of the Great Tribulation. There is a parallel between these plagues and those of the Trumpets in Revelation 8:2 – 9:21 as far as the order of them, though they certainly are not identical in every respect. Each plague in both series (trumpets and vials) is reminiscent of the plagues on Egypt before the Exodus. The first four in both series cover the traditional divisions of nature: earth, sea, rivers, and sky. But in each of the vials, unlike the trumpets, the plague on nature is related to the suffering of mankind. Also, each vial plague seems to be total in its effect, as we shall see as we go. The final three plagues are social and spiritual in their effect and shift from nature to humanity.
This noisome and grievous sore is the same type of sore that fell on the Egyptians in Exodus 9:9, where it is referred to as, “boils”. The Greek word here in Revelation 16:2, and the Greek word used in the Septuagint, (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) is from the same Greek root word. This word is also used in Job 2:7 to describe the boils that broke out on Job. These two words, “noisome” and “grievous” let us know that these sores, or boils, will be extremely painful, exceedingly vile, while constantly oozing foul smelling corruption. (I don’t mean to be gross here, but I sanitized it as best I could.) We aren’t told how long this particular plague will last, but I am sure it will seem like an eternity to those suffering with these sores.
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.[Rev. 16:3 KJV] There are a couple of different ways of looking at this particular plague, and really the tribulation plagues in general, that I want to bring to your attention . First, there are commentators and scholars who see all of the judgments of the Tribulation occurring in the region of the old Roman Empire, which will be the seat or headquarters of the Antichrist. That would take in North Africa, the Middle East, and much of Europe. If that is the case, the “sea” referred to here would be the Mediterranean. There are others who would see especially these vial judgments as more global in scope. The language would seem to suggest the latter interpretation. However, given the fact that there is a great deal of similarity between these plagues and those that were poured out on Egypt prior to the Exodus of the Jews, they could have their greatest effect in the region of the Old Roman Empire. Either way, I am sure that given the global nature of the time in which we live, and the connectedness of virtually the entire planet; the effects of these plagues will have world-wide ramifications.
Think about this second angel’s vial. The Bible says that the sea became as blood, and not just blood; but as the blood of a dead man. What a horrible plague this will be! The Scripture tells us the “life of the flesh is in the blood.” [Lev. 17:11] We also know that the great water ways, whether they be lakes, rivers, oceans, or seas; typically are teeming with life. Not so at this time. Blood will become a token of death, and the sea typically the womb of life, will become a grave of death. John saw every living soul, that would take in all matter of sea life and human beings who happen to find themselves at sea at that time, all dying as a result of the sea becoming blood. This is no ordinary blood in the sea, but the black and coagulated blood of a dead man. The stench of the blood and dead, rotting sea creatures and decomposing human carcases will be unbearable. John MacArthur states the situation here and its spiritual significance in stark terms, “Transforming of the world’s seas into putrid pools of stinking death will be graphic testimony to the wickedness of man.” [Hitchcock, Mark; Walvoord, John; Rawley, Philip (2011-04-01). Revelation (The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries) (p. 242). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.]
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. [Rev. 16:4 KJV] Even if the waters of the sea are contaminated, people would still have a fresh source of potable water, right? Not so. All the rivers and fountains of water will become blood too. This would take in all sources of fresh water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. The Revelator does not tell us the results of this judgment, but they must be devastating While some would be tempted to cry that God is not just in sending this degree, this severity of judgment, just the opposite will be true. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. [Rev. 16:4, 5 KJV]
Angels are assigned some pretty amazing tasks during the Great Tribulation. This one is the “angel of the waters.” This angel explains that since the blood of God’s people has been shed so freely, and this will be especially true during the Great Tribulation, then it is fitting that wicked Christ rejecting men be given to blood to drink. Believers will be slaughtered by the thousands during the Great Tribulation. It will be a time unparallelled in the annuls of human history. The prayers of the martyred saints recorded back in 6:9 – 11, though seemingly long in coming, will be answered at this time.
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. [Rev. 16:8, 9 KJV] You should recall that Jesus said during the Great Tribulation there would be, signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. [Luke 21:25, 26 KJV] This will be the ultimate “sign” in the sun. The Old Testament had a great deal to say about judgment during the Great Tribulation due to excessive from the sun. [See Deut. 32:24, Isa. 24:6, 42:25, Mal. 4:1]
Most of us remember the heat wave that struck the South the summer of 1980. Crops were parched and hundreds died as temperatures consistently soared over 100 degrees for days. During the Great Tribulation the world will get to experience the sun raging out of control. We need to “connect the dots” here, so to speak. The earth becomes so drastically hot during this judgment that God has to alleviate the suffering by shortening the daylight hours. Someone says, “Where do you get that idea?” From Jesus. He said, And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. [Matt. 24:22 KJV] God shortens the daylight hours and lengthens the night seasons during this time to keep millions alive. He does this by darkening the sun. [Matt. 24:29] That which Jesus stated in His Olivet Discourse harmonizes perfectly with Revelation 16:2, And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood. God’s method of shortening the daylight hours hinders the sun’s death purge of earth’s inhabitants by reducing the amount of ultraviolet rays bombarding the planet. This act of mercy is for His people, the saved Tribulation saints, for He adds in Matthew 24:22, for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. This plague will cause untold misery and destruction, especially when joined with the plagues already afflicting the earth and those who taken the mark of the Beast, the name of the Beast, and the number of His name. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. [Rev. 16:9]
We have given you much to “chew on” this time. We’ll pick up with verse 10 next time.