Revelation 16:12-21: When All Hell Breaks Loose

12] Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.  13] And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  14] For they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15] “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

16] And they gathered them together to the place called in the Hebrew, Armageddon.

17] Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  18] And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  19] Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.  20] Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  21] And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.  Men blasphemed because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great

Perhaps the title sounds unusual, perhaps a little excessive, or even profane.  Sometimes the expression in it is used when some catastrophe or violence breaks out somewhere on earth.  It means something is really terrible.

In this case, however, it isn’t profane, but an expression of a solemn reality – hell will really break loose in one final attempt to defeat the purpose of God.  It will be “terrible” beyond anything this world has experienced.

There are two parts to this vision:

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.
2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.

We’ve already been introduced to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.  For more than three years, they’ve pretty much had the run of things, even though the dragon, that is, Satan, knows his time is running out, 12:12, hence the increased wickedness and violence.  Now, in this last few weeks, what turns out to be the final act begins.

For most of its existence, and certainly its recent existence, Israel has been the object of scorn and hatred.  Though it’s ancient history to a lot of people today, WWII was a nearly successful attempt to wipe out Jewry.  Though some today deny any such thing as the Holocaust, the times just after the war was over and the terrible pictures of emaciated men, little more than skeletons in skin, liberated from the death camps, or the piles of corpses found in those camps, the bodies of those murdered by the Nazis say otherwise.  Yes, it was real.

This will be far beyond that.

Satan hates God, and has tried to thwart Him at every turn.  He tried in the Garden of Eden.  He tried with Abraham.  He tried in Egypt.  He tried in the wilderness wanderings and after Israel entered the land.  He tried when our Lord walked the dusty roads of Palestine.  Even that very name – Palestine, a name given to the land by her enemies – is a denial of Israel and her claim to that land, a claim still vigorously and sometimes violently disputed.

At the beginning of our verses we’re told that the River Euphrates will be dried up so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.  The longest river in that part of the world, the Euphrates has long stood as a barrier between Western Asia and the West.  Further, it is vital to the economy of the region, several nations being dependent on it for irrigation or hydroelectric energy.

Who are “the kings of the east”?  Older commentators understood them to be from China, with her teeming millions, or from other countries in the Far East.   That may be, but there are “teeming millions” much closer – in Syria and other nearby countries.  Because of overpopulation and overuse, the water table in many of these countries has dropped, in some cases severely, and the Euphrates itself has been affected to some degree, as its sources of water begin to dry up or are closed off with dams.  It may be more than Wiley the poet in the comic strip B. C. can understand, but there’s been more than one war started over water.  This may be the last one.  (And that no doubt by now obscure cultural reference may tell how old I am.  Oh, well.)

But there’s more.  And it’s not really a joking matter, though my sense of humor often gets in the way.  We read that the sixth angel will pour out his bowl over the River and what may have begun by natural and environmental forces will be finished all at once and the River will be gone.

This will open the door for much easier access into the Levant as, not only from the east but the kings of the earth and of the whole world, will gather for an onslaught against Jerusalem.  This will turn out to be Satan’s last attempt to destroy Israel.  We see his minions energizing the beast and the false prophet as no doubt they urge this invasion once and for all to settle “the Jewish problem,” v. 13.  I want to point out once more the Scripture mentioning that these demons perform “signs,” v. 14.  If he can’t get folks to deny the Word outright, then he’ll draw their attention to counterfeit things like “signs and miracles.”

But it isn’t just Satan and his minions and his subjects.  It isn’t just political maneuvering or racial hatred.  In Zechariah 14:2, the Lord God says, I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem,” emphasis added.  We never want to get the idea that somehow God is outside all this, or that He’s caught by surprise or unprepared for the doings of sinful men.  While I don’t want to get into the discussion over “free will” and God’s sovereignty, let me simply say that God is quite able to work His will in the context of His own creation.  This last battle is simply His preparation for the return of His Son.

There are other Scriptures which weigh in on this.  For example, Isaiah 66:16 says,

For by fire and by His sword
The LORD will judge all flesh;
And the slain of the LORD shall be many.

And further,

At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure
His indignation,
Jeremiah 10:6.

See also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

It’s interesting that in the midst of this description of one of the worst times in human history, the Lord Jesus interjects a promise, “Behold, I come as a thief,” Revelation 16:15.  But there’s also a warning:  “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

I don’t know how this last part will play out, but it’s a solemn warning not to get so caught up in current events or in trying to decipher “the signs of the times,” that we forget our personal responsibility to live holy lives, lives looking for more than the transient things of this world.  See also 1 John 2:28.  Satan will not have the final word, no matter how desperate things seem to get.

2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

The seventh angel pours out his bowl of wrath in the climactic act of judgment in Revelation.  These judgments include a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth, v. 18.  This is the last of several earthquakes recorded in Revelation, and is likely the one associated with the physical return of our Lord as recorded in Zechariah 14:

And in that day His feet will stand on the
Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in
two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the
north
And half of it toward the south.
…All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon in the south, Zechariah 14:4, 10.

By the way, this will more than make room for the temple and its environs spoken of in Ezekiel 40-45.

Isaiah 24:20 says, the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  With the physical and geological catastrophes ravaging this poor planet, we can certainly see why!

Revelation 16:19 refers to the judgment of the great city, identified a little later in the verse as great Babylon.  Since more than two chapters are devoted to the destruction of this city, we’ll save further comments until later.  The “chronology” of the book skips from 16:21 to 19:11.  The portion in between is explanatory, the “director’s cut,” the idea that inspired the title for this series.

Verses 20, 21 continue the description of the judgment of the seventh bowl.  Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  These catastrophes are accompanied by great hail from heaven, with hailstones weighing from 75 to 100 pounds each.

None of this moves men toward God, but further away.  They continue to blaspheme, to curse, not to repent.  It is the “great day of His wrath.”

Paul referred to the time of the beast in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10:  the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved, emphasis added.

You see, we’re not saved by faith in “signs,” but by faith in the Son, His perfect life and death, what He did for sinners on the Cross, taking their place and enduring the wrath of God against their sin.  They, and they alone, are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Revelation 15:5-16:11, “I Will Repay,” Says The Lord.

5] After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.  6] And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.  7] Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.  8] The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angles were completed.

16:1] Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”

2] So the first went and poured his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

3] Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

4] Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.  5] And I heard the angel of the waters saying:

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
For You have judged these things.
6] For they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And you have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”

7] And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

8] Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  9] And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

10] Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  11] They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.  (NKJV)

For nearly three-and-a-half years, a great world leader (great as the world understands it) has led mankind in an overt rebellion against the God of heaven.  He’s been able to perform astounding miracles, even himself cheating and defeating, or so it seemed, defeating death itself.  He’s murdered countless numbers of those who refuse to bow before him.  Apparently he has free reign.  Nothing can stop him.

But now there is a drastic change.  Those heavens which had been so silent now respond.  First of all, John shows us the scene in heaven, that heaven which up til now has been silent – but no longer….

There is activity.  Seven angels come out of the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven, v. 6.  Why such a long description?  Perhaps it has something to do with the innermost workings of the Divine mind and purpose.    I don’t really know.  The focus isn’t so much on where these angels came from as it is on what they’re going to do.  No one will be able to enter the temple until they are done, v. 8.

We’re only looking at the first five of these seven bowls of judgment, because the sixth judgment introduces a new element.  Some of these judgments mirror things we’ve seen before – in earlier judgments and much earlier in Egypt.

1. The First Bowl, 16:2:  Terrible sores.

A foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

This mirrors the sixth plague in Egypt: boils which afflicted man and animal, Exodus 8:8-12.  The sores in this judgment afflict only those who follow the beast.  These are the kind of sores that afflicted the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:21, a “festering, inflamed, running sore that refuses to be healed.”

The insolent challenge had risen to the heavens:  “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?” Revelation 13:4.  In these judgments, he and his followers will find out.

2. The Second Bowl, 16:3:  The sea turned to blood.

Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

This bowl and the next one mirror the first plague in Egypt, where the water was turned to blood, also what happened during the second trumpet.  In the trumpet judgment, however, only a third of the sea was affected, with the water turning to blood and a third of ships being destroyed.

Something is said of this “blood” that shows the severity of this plague.  Running through our veins, blood brings oxygen to every cell and carries away waste products.  The life of the flesh is in the blood, Leviticus 17:11.  For all our science and technology, I’m not sure we understand the wonder and complexity of our blood.  Carefully preserved and protected, blood can be useful and life-saving, as in blood transfusions.  It can even be a preventative, as in forming scabs to cover wounds.  The blood of the second bowl isn’t like that.  It is blood as of a dead man, foul and corrupt.  Instead of preserving and protecting life, it will kill every creature in the sea.

Why are the ships affected?  Well, imagine what will happen when that great mountain – perhaps a giant meteorite – hits the ocean – and the tidal wave that will follow.  It will dwarf the wave that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004.  Our son was in Sri Lanka a few years afterward and said you could still see where the water came up to on the palm trees.  That was nothing compared to what will happen in the future.

3. The Third Bowl, 16:4-7:  Fresh water turned to blood.

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

The judgment of the third trumpet affected only a third of fresh water and only made these waters bitter.  This judgment affects all fresh water and makes it not bitter, but blood.

We can’t even begin to know what this will be like.  Imagine.  The Great Lakes in the US, Tanganyika in Africa, Titicaca in South America, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Volga, Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, to name only a few sources, running in blood, not water.

A lady once told me she was bothered by all the blood mentioned in the Old Testament, and indeed, many are offended and call ours “a bloody religion.”  Some people faint at the sight of blood.  What will this judgment be like?

Regardless of how men will react, the heavenly world will acknowledge God’s absolute righteousness and justice, vs. 5-7.

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,

Because You have judged these things.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”
“…Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

4. The fourth bowl, 16:8, 9:  Scorching heat.

Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

Because of the darkness which follows in the next judgment, some have said that the Sun suffers a type of nova, that is, it greatly expands and then collapses, going out.  Perhaps.  I don’t really know.  Whatever happens, it will be something terrible, and will cause heat never before experienced on this world.  What is believed to be the highest ground temperature ever recorded is 201 degrees in Death Valley, at Furnace Creek, California, in July, 1972.  This was a local phenomenon.  What Revelation describes will be world-wide, and worse.

Instead of repenting, men will curse the God of heaven.  Perhaps this is an answer to those who imagine that the pains of hell will finally cause men to repent, and everyone will eventually be saved and brought to heaven.  This tells us something far different.  In probably what will be the closest approximation to hell this world will ever see, it won’t bring men to repentance.  It will simply confirm them in and increase their rebellion and hatred of God.

5. The fifth bowl, 16:10, 11:  Darkness and pain.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.

Though this seems to be an entirely separate thing, as another angel pours out his bowl, some of the effects of previous bowls still linger. Pain of the sores from the first bowl coupled with the intense heat of the fourth bowl make men gnaw their tongues.  Then they are plunged into complete darkness.

This is similar to something that happened in Egypt as Moses and Aaron were dealing with Pharaoh’s stubbornness in allowing Israel to leave.  In Exodus 10:21, we read,  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 

“Darkness which may even be felt….”

Have you ever experienced that kind of darkness?  I don’t mean emotional pain or distress that seems to block out everything else.  That is certainly “felt,” but I don’t think that’s what the Lord had in mind in Egypt, and it’s not the kind of darkness the folks in Revelation will experience.

I was in a cave once, it might have been Carlsbad Caverns, I don’t really remember.  What I do remember is that while we were down there, far from the surface, the guide turned off the lights.  There was no light whatever; it was absolutely dark.  I could feel my eyes straining to see something – anything.

Anything at all.

It was quite a relief to the group when the guide turned the lights back on.

It’s said that unrelieved absolute darkness will result in blindness.  I don’t really know, but the fifth bowl will bring that kind of darkness.

Yet those who suffer it will simply bow their necks and continue in their rebellion against God.

We mentioned earlier those who believe there will be a “second chance” for salvation after death.  This is a false and fatal hope.  There’s also some discussion about whether or not Christians will go through the Tribulation period.  It’s not really my purpose to get into all that, but simply to say that while I believe that true believers will not go through that time of trial on this earth, there will be a lot of church-members who will.

Perhaps that sounds harsh and judgmental.  I make no judgment about any particular person, but the Lord Jesus said that there is only one way of salvation, not many, one road to heaven, not many.  In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”   In our culture of “diversity” and “inclusiveness,” this is considered bigoted and narrow.  Nevertheless, it stands true.

Peter echoed our Lord to the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel:  “nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

To the Philippian jailer, Paul and Silas said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

There’s no name of a church or denomination, no routine or ritual, no ceremony that will bring folks to heaven. There’s no baptism, whether of adult or infant, immersion or sprinkling, that will do it.  No other “religion” is able to get you to heaven.  Only those who by faith have received the Lord Jesus Christ, who He was and what He did for sinners, will escape the judgment to come.  Oh, that you might be one of them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Revelation 15:3-4, The Giver, Not The Gifts

They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints.
4] Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify
Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before
You.
For Your judgments have been manifested.”

John has been describing the terrible desolation that has been poured out on the earth because of man’s rebellion and sin.  Here and there, though, there have been as it were rays of sunshine through the dark clouds of judgment as we’ve seen that there will be many who are saved by the grace of God in spite of the wickedness and ungodliness around them.

Chapter 15 records one such group, those who’ve been redeemed from the worst time this world will ever see and who now stand in the presence of God.  John gives us a record of their worship and praise in vs. 3 and 4.

it’s noteworthy that they don’t talk about the blessings or the gifts they’ve been given.  There’s no talk about what they did or who they were on the earth.  There’s nothing about their loving God or serving Him.  There’s nothing of themselves.  Perhaps we could learn from this in our own worship and praise.  God isn’t just waiting around for us to tell Him what we want.

The whole focus of these verses is on the greatness and majesty of God.  In v. 3, they describe His works:  great and marvelous.  They had seen something of this in what had happened in the seals and the trumpets, to say nothing of what they might have known of God otherwise.

Now, though some do, I don’t believe we live in the time of the seals and trumpets.  There’s nothing so obvious to show the presence of God.  We live in a time of relative “silence” as far as the heavens are concerned.  However, we can look around and see the marks of His handiwork everywhere, if we will but just look.  Whether through a microscope or a telescope, whether in the intricate structure of a single cell or in the awe-inspiring beauty of a far-off galaxy, we see evidence of a master workman.  It’s beyond reason that men believe all this just blindly “happened” without a guiding hand.

But further, just and true are His ways.  On facebook the other day, there was a video of a preacher dealing with the question of God and the existence of evil.  I really couldn’t hear what he was saying, my hearing not being what it once was, but it is a question folks ask:  “If God is good and almighty, why did He permit evil to exist?”

God never answers that question in Scripture.  He simply asserts that it will not forever have free reign, as it now seems to have.  I suppose that’s really the important thing – where it’s going, not where it came from.

However, God didn’t make Adam and Eve as puppets or robots.  He didn’t simply “program” them to do what He wanted.  He gave them minds, emotions, will.  They could think.  They could “feel”.  And they could make decisions.  And God gave them simple and clear instructions; they could eat of any tree in the garden except one.  They couldn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It just really struck me that the tree was about good as well as evil.  We have to remember that Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence.  Though they hadn’t yet sinned, they were not “sinless” as we understand that.  We might say that, in a sense, they were a blank slate.  They had no “experience” to draw on, nothing to tell them about things except God.  And we’re told nothing about what He said except as it pertains to their fall.

When Satan tempted Eve to disobey God, he implied that they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  They wouldn’t need God.  We’ve seen, and see, the results of that.

However we may understand the answer to the question of evil now, there is coming a time when we will indeed see that God’s dealings with Adam and with every one of his descendants have been and are just and true.

However, all this isn’t just some arcane discussion reserved for clerics and scholars in musty halls of academia.  The question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?”  It brings us out into where we are and what we are doing right now.  It brings us face to face with a God who alone is holy.

Holiness isn’t about experience, or the name of a religious group.  It’s about essential nature and character.  Though used in a variety of ways, the word “holy” means “separate from defilement or impurity.”  It refers to a state of being morally and spiritually clean and pure, absolutely clean and pure.  No hint of impurity or impropriety.

Only God is like that.

We are anything but….

This is why the question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord?”

There is coming a time when the heavens will not be silent.  When men will no longer be able to ignore or reject the God of heaven.  Even on this earth, to say nothing of what will happen to us after death.

“For all nations shall come and worship before You.”

Zechariah 14 gives us a graphic description of this:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left all of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts…, v. 16.  And this will be mandatory, as vs. 17-19 tell us.

But all of that is yet future.  What about today, this Tuesday morning that I type this, or the day that you are reading this?  One day you will stand before God to give an account of this life.  Are you ready?  Oh, that you might consider this, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any of us, but only, as Hebrews 6:2 puts it, a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Modern culture may not believe in a God who would do such things, but that doesn’t nullify what God said.

But God sent His Son to do what we can’t:  live a perfect, sinless life and die a death that would satisfy the requirements of the Law.  The Resurrection is God’s assurance that the price has been paid, and that all those who receive the Lord Jesus by faith are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Revelation 14:14-20, The Darkness Before the Dawn

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the cluster of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.  (NKJV)

Though we’re only about 2/3 of the way through Revelation, we’re down to perhaps the last few weeks before our Lord returns to this world and history as we know it will be over.  I say “perhaps” because it’s difficult to know for certain the “overlap” of various events in the book.  At least one of them takes five months, 9:5.  And we read of the days of the blowing of the seventh trumpet, 10:7, which actually includes what happens during the time of the pouring out of the seven bowls, or vials.  We tend to read the book as if A follows B, but A and B might overlap to some degree.  Further, the narrative switches back and forth between heaven and earth.

Chapters 15 and 16 give us the “bowl” judgments.  Chapters 17, 18 and through 19:10 give us heaven’s perspective.  From 19:11 through ch. 20, we have the final chapters of this world’s history.  21 shows us the creation of new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells, or “is at home,” as 2 Peter 3:13 puts it.

Under the guise of a harvest, our text, Revelation 14:14-20, gives us something of the events which will precede our Lord’s return in 19:11 and explains a little of why He wears a blood-stained robe, 19:13.

Of note is the fact that there are two “harvests,” one in vs. 14-16 and one in vs. 17-20.  The first one involves the Son of man, and the harvest of the earth.  The second one involves an angel and the harvest of the vine of the earth.

Our Lord spoke of this first harvest in Mark 13:27, “And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven.”  See also Matthew 24:31.  There’s a great deal of discussion of all that’s involved with this topic.  It’s possible that this verse refers to the gathering together of Israel, not “the church.”  It’s not our purpose to get into all of it.  It’s enough to remember that Paul wrote that 

we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.

We believe that Revelation 14:14-16 give us this same event.

Verses 17-20 give us a description of the expression of God’s wrath toward this earth.

Several Scriptures gives us details of this time.  Perhaps the best known are found in Zechariah.  According to chapter 14, Jerusalem will finally be captured and terrible atrocities will be committed against her inhabitants.  When all hope appears to be lost and Israel will finally be destroyed after centuries of her enemies trying to do that, the Lord will suddenly appear and will “destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem,” Zechariah 12:9.

At the same time, Zechariah 12:10 tells us that God “will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.  Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

At this time, Romans 11:26 will be fulfilled:  all Israel [alive at that time] shall be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion, 
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Isaiah 63:1-4 refers to this time, as well:

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This One who is glorious in apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength? –

“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Why is Your apparel red,
And your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury:
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.”

So great will the slaughter of God’s and Israel’s enemies be that Scripture tells us that it will take seven months to bury them all, Ezekiel 39:12, and seven years to get rid of all their weapons and equipment, vs. 9, 10.  The arterial spray from their deaths will even reach as high as horses’ bridles, Revelation 14:20.

This view of God is foreign to our time, even repugnant to many.  We’ve so distorted the Bible’s teaching about God that He’s been reduced to little more than an indulgent Grandfather chuckling over the follies and foibles of His grandchildren.  But we are NOT all His children, as so many believe.

We are, however, all His subjects.  He is our Creator and God.  Evolution has taken care of the idea of His being Creator and our materialistic worldview has taken care of any idea of God.  We’re all that there is – except maybe for alien civilizations which might have evolved on other planets – a popular tenet of sci-fi programs.  Nevertheless, we are as subject to His moral and spiritual laws as we are to His “natural” laws – like the law of gravity.  Even those who’ve never hear of Him have some idea of “right” and “wrong.”  They may not agree with our ideas, but still, they recognize that some things are “wrong.”  The thing is, no one has even fully lived according to those ideas, and are as guilty as those who have full access to the Bible.  This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:14-16.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  All of us are condemned in His sight.  This is why the Lord Jesus came to this world – to save sinners.  Yesterday was Easter.  Yes, I know some much prefer “Resurrection Day,” and I understand why they prefer it.  The point isn’t so much what we call it, but what God was doing during it.  He was showing that our Lord’s death which has occurred three days and three nights before had been effective.  It was His receipt, if you will, for what Christ had done.  Sin had been paid for, and judgment satisfied for those for whom Christ died.

Those who believe on Him will never endure the wrath of God against their sin.  Christ endured it for them.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus?  He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him, John 3:36.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of those who read these posts.  I only pray that they – that you – will consider your future.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

As much as men might deny the God of the Bible, the time is coming when this will not be possible.

Revelation 12:7-17: Turmoil in Heaven.

7] And war broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angel fought with the devil; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8] but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.  9] So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10] Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before God day and night, has been cast down.  11] And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.  12] Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

13] Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.  14] But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.  15] So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.  16] But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  17] And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Verses 7-17 give us some details about what verses 1-6 have to say.  For example, this “war” in heaven happens before the woman flees into the wilderness.  They also introduce us to two more of the seven beings in chs. 12 and 13, as well as giving us further information about “the woman.”

They are:

1. Michael, v. 7.

War broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.

Daniel 12:1 refers to this event.  It says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.

Revelation tells us why there will be such a “time of trouble.”

One thing about this “war.”  Daniel 10:13, 20 tell us that Satan and his angels oppose and try to hinder God at every step, but that does not mean that they can in any way alter His purpose or ultimately prevent God from doing what He wants to do.  There is entirely too much of this idea, however veiled it might be, that God and Satan are equals, that the “forces of good and evil” are somehow evenly matched.  Or as one false teacher puts it, if the church doesn’t pray enough, then, in effect, heaven falters.

*sigh*

From the earliest record in Scripture, it’s taught that Satan has access to heaven, Job 1, 2.  And, as we see in the life of Job, he accuses the people of God.  This tells us the significance of 1 John 2:1: we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And don’t overlook the significance of the fact that Jesus is called “the righteous.”  He appears before the Father as our Substitute, our Savior.  It’s His righteousness imputed to us through faith that we must have because we have none of our own.  Religion, yes, routine and ritual, bucket loads, righteousness that God will accept, not a bit.

Revelation tells us that there is coming a time when Satan will finally be thrown out of heaven and that will result in a time of trouble on this earth never seen before and never to be seen again, a time referred to in Jeremiah 30:7 as the time of Jacob’s trouble.

Lest there should be any doubt as to who this “dragon” is, he’s clearly identified as the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, v. 9.  Further, he’s characterized as one who deceives the whole world.  We could do a whole series just on this.  He deceives, he denies, he distorts, he counterfeits.  Do you really think that everything in our time that calls itself “Christian” is of God?  To say nothing of all the other religions in our world, or the cultural chaos that has engulfed society?

Woe is pronounced for the earth, though heaven rejoices that, at long last, this would-be usurper of the Throne, this interloper, is finally banished.  There is one thing these who rejoice say, and that is that, once thrown out of heaven, the devil knows he only has a little while remaining before he himself is judged.  It’s an interesting study in Scripture to see what the devil knows to be true and what he teaches about it, as, for example, the existence of God.

There are some things said about our brethren that we could spend a lot of time on, as well.  We’ll just touch on them.  Even though they possibly die, they are still called “overcomers.”  Three things about this in v. 11:

a. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. Remember that John saw a Lamb as though it had been slain, Revelation 5:6.  This is where it all starts, because without shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness of sins.

b. and by the word of their testimony.  We have a lot of misconceptions about the Devil in our culture.  Some people deny his existence altogether, some people run around rebuking him, other spend all their time worrying about him.  1 Corinthians 6:20, You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.  What price?  This gets us back to the first point:  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct…, but with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Peter 1:18-19.  We don’t overcome the Devil by “rebuking” him, but by living for God and eternity.

c. and they loved not their lives to the death.  Our Lord makes a promise to such:  “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.  While that promise was given to a specific church, don’t you think it applies to those who were hunted and killed in their thousands by Rome and the Reformers and by groups like ISIS in our time?  Jim Elliot, who himself gave his life serving our Lord, said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

2. The woman, vs. 14-16.

These verses amplify what’s already been told of this woman’s plight and persecution.  For example, she is given some sort of assistance in her flight.  John describes this as wings of a great eagle, v. 14.  By some means, she is enabled to flee quickly from her persecutor.  Again, her place is mentioned , vs. 6, 14, and a specific period, time and times and half a time.  This corresponds to the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years, mentioned in v. 6.  The devil sends a flood after her.  Ezekiel 38 describes an invasion of Israel from the north by many armies.  See also Zechariah 14:2.  Perhaps this is a contingent from that army pursuing the fleeing Jews.

The references to “her place,” the assistance given her when fleeing, the fact that she is nourished during her time of isolation, these all remind us of what Zechariah 14:2 tells us.  God says, “I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.”  In all this God is in control of events.  He’s not sitting up there on His throne anxiously waiting for someone to take the first step so He can step in Himself.  That’s the only real hope any of us have as we see our world, perhaps maybe even our lives in one way or another, circling the drain – that there’s a reason, a purpose, for what’s going on around us.

The enemy sends a flood to destroy the woman, but, again, she is delivered:  the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood, v. 16.  If necessary, God can even marshal “the forces of nature” to aid His people.  Now, we’re not told exactly what this intervention is, perhaps an earthquake, as in Exodus 15:12, Numbers 16:31.  Perhaps it’s the result of the earthquake which accompanies the Lord’s invasion, Ezekiel 38:19, 20; Zechariah 14:4.  There are historical references of sandstorms burying armies.

Whatever this deliverance is, it introduces the last of the five beings or groups:

3. the remnant, vs. 17.

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Jews are spread all over the world and even in the time of temporary peace for the nation that Daniel speaks of, not all of them will come back to the land.  Those who do not become fair game for the anger of the devil as he finds himself backed into a corner, as it were, knowing he has only a short time to do damage to Israel.  But it isn’t simply that the objects of his persecution are simply ethnic Jews; they are describes as those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

In short, they receive both halves of Scripture.

Some folks have difficulty with the idea that saved people, in this case, Jews, “keep the commandments of God.”  The whole subject of the Law is well beyond the scope of this post.  Just let me say that the Mosaic Law wasn’t simply the Jew’s “religion.”  It was his culture, his life.  True, if he “kept” it, it became a means of “righteousness” for him, but even after a Jew “knew the Lord,” like Paul, the Law was his culture.  It defined what he was.   He didn’t throw it out simply because he had found the One to whom it pointed.  He DID NOT look to the Law for his salvation, but then, neither did he abandon living by its principles.

We see an example of this in Acts 21.  Paul had returned to Jerusalem.  While he was there, he was told that his enemies had circulated rumors that he had been teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,”  v. 21.  To counter this, he was advised, “therefore do what we tell you:  We have four men who have taken a vow,  Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law,” vs. 22-24, emphasis added.

But pay attention to the rest of what it said!  But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols,” etc, v. 25, emphasis added.  The whole story of this edict is found in Acts 15.

Once again, let me repeat, it was not a matter of salvation for the early church, which was, after all, composed almost entirely of Jews.  It was a matter of simply continuing to be who they were.

In the same way, this remnant is defined as made up of those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 12:1-6, A Damsel in Distress

1] Now a great sign appeared in heaven:  a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.  2] Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

3]  And another sign appeared in heaven:  behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  4] His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.  5] She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.  6] Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

In early days of man-making, when an area was unknown, sometimes dragons or other monsters were drawn in, with the phrase, “here be dragons,” or “here be monsters,” perhaps to signify the dangers of the unknown.  Truly, the chapter before us enters the unknown, because it talks about the spiritual world, and talks about forces and events far beyond our ability to discern.  In fact, with our eyes and ears and tactile senses, we’re able to “see” only a tiny, tiny part of what goes on around us.  Furthermore, unbelief and skepticism tells us there is no “spiritual” world, that the material universe is all there is.  There is no “spirit,” no “God.”

God says otherwise.  That, in fact, without Him, there would be no material world.

This chapter tells us something of the unseen happenings of this material world.

Chs. 12 and 13 introduce the first of a series of “7s” in the rest of the book.  There are: seven beings, chs. 12, 13; seven visions, ch. 14; seven bowls, chs. 15, 16; seven dooms, chs. 17-20; and seven new things, chs. 21-22.

Chapter 12 introduces us to five of the seven beings.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.  They are:

1. The woman, v. 1.

Many attempts have been made to identify this woman:  the church, the Virgin Mary, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, a host of others.  It seems to me that Scripture identifies her in a description which reminds us of another, similar description in Genesis 37:9, 10:  And [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream.  And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”  So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

“The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.”

It seems to me that these two descriptions identify the woman in Revelation as Israel, but Israel from a particular standpoint:  in labor, that is, in childbirth.  A few verses later, more detail is given.

2.  The dragon, vs. 3-6.

This being is identified as Satan in v. 9.  Here again, though, there is a particular context.  The seven heads and ten horns identify a particular time, which we believe is yet future, as we’ll see, and the rest of these verses identify a particular theme: opposition to and attempts to destroy her Child, that is, the Lord Jesus.  Reference to His birth doesn’t change our view of Satan and that what Revelation tells us is still future; it simply tells us that it wasn’t just Herod trying to kill the infant Jesus, but Satan himself as well.  He has consistently opposed God’s revealed redemptive purpose.  It’s beyond the purpose of this post to pursue this study, but from the Garden of Eden onward, Satan has tried (unsuccessfully) to thwart God’s working.  All he’s managed to do is to further its accomplishment.

Two things only are said of her Child: that He was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and that He was caught up to God’s throne.  It’s important to understand that Scripture never says that He was caught up to His own throne, or that this is just a reference to His headship over the church.  Cf. Revelation 3:21.  We’ve mentioned this before and will visit it again later in these studies.

Perhaps there is one thing:  how can we say the woman is Israel, and yet it was not “the nation” who gave birth to the Lord, but the virgin Mary?  For most, if not all of her history, Israel has yearned for the coming of the Messiah.  It was simply through this young woman, this virgin, that God brought the Messiah into Israel.  The fact that Israel rejected Him because He didn’t fit their notions of what the Messiah would do doesn’t alter the fact that God has a redemptive purpose for Israel, and that she’s not permanently put aside.  That purpose will one day be completed.

Between vs. 5 and 6 lies the whole church age.

In v. 6, the woman flees into the wilderness to a special place prepared by God, where she will be preserved, protected and provided for during a time identified as 1260 days, or three-and-a-half years.  More details are given later in this portion of Scripture.

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.