Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 15 and 16
Timothy J. Westendorf
Often in Revelation the seventh in a series serves as a springboard into a new series. After the seven seals, we read about the angels with seven trumpets (8:1,2) and the seven trumpets bring us to the seven last plagues (15:1).
Seven angels in heaven
Chapter 15 brings John and his readers to a familiar place. It is God’s throne room While the place is the same as we saw in chapters 4 and 5, the mood is decidedly different. The Lord still reigns. The sea is still glassy. The faithful believers are still victorious. The redeemed are still singing praises. But seven of God’s pure and holy angels are carrying the “last plagues.” They are then given “seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God” (15:7) by one of the four living creatures—a high-ranking angel.
God’s judgment is not an easy topic to talk about, even for believers. But God speaks about it plainly and often as a reminder and a warning. All those who cling by faith to Christ and his righteousness are spared from the wrath of God. By faith we hold on to God’s amazing gospel truth, that his justice was already satisfied by this world’s perfect Savior from sin! Those who fall under God’s judgment have only themselves to blame for stubbornly refusing the saving truth of the gospel. By faith, we are free from God’s wrath, but we also trust that his judgments are just and true for those who reject him.
Seven bowls on the earth
A loud and commanding voice introduces chapter 16 with instructions to the seven angels to pour out their bowls on the earth. There is a striking similarity between the vision of the seven bowls and the seven trumpets (chapters 8 to 11). If you lay them alongside each other it is difficult to miss the parallel thoughts and themes. The latter seems to be a repetition and intensification of the earlier vision’s message.
Recall that the trumpets point to the damage done to human hearts by the presence and preaching of false doctrine. Holding to such false teachings results in the further darkening of minds and obscuring of God’s truth, his law and gospel. Satan and his allies work tirelessly to darken the counsel of God, depriving mankind of the one thing needful. Finally, God, in judgment, allows people to have more and more of what they show they want—something other than the gospel.
As this world draws to a close, we’ll expect to see God’s truth neglected and rejected. It will seem like the dragon and the two beasts are in total control. They’ll be allowed to inspire and orchestrate the gathering of evil forces to attempt a complete obliteration of God’s church. But the day of their choosing turns out to be the Lord’s day. And then the end comes, and the world is judged.
Let fearful and anxious hearts find true comfort and calm in none other than Christ Jesus, who redeemed us and rules over all things for the good of his church!
Reflect on Revelation chapters 15-16
1. Read Matthew 24:22-25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. To whom does God send delusions? Explain why.
God sends delusions to those who have refused to love the truth.
When Jesus was faced with opposition to his message, he sometimes withdrew. When the Jews resolved to kill Jesus, we read, “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples” (John 11:54). Leaving Judea meant that Jesus would not teach the truth of God to them. They had rejected his message. So God withdraws his gospel from those who reject it and allows unbelievers to listen to teachers proclaim ideas that are not the truth. Without the gospel and the Scriptures, nothing corrects those false ideas. When God removes the gospel, those who rejected it believe the lies and delusions and delight in wickedness. It is a judgment from God that confirms their unbelief.
2. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4.
a. Create a list of things you can do to carry out Paul’s charge in verse 2.
Preach the Word. How do we do that? Make sure the gospel is the center of our worship every Sunday. We can support our congregation’s ministry to adults and children. We can witness to our friends, relatives, and neighbor. All our mission work throughout the world is an opportunity to preach the Word as we wait for the Lord’s coming. Our message is a witness to our faith in our Lord’s return and an invitation for other to repent and come to faith in Jesus.
We can prepare ourselves through our Bible study, devotions, and worship attendance so that we are ready to respond “in season and out of season,” that is, whenever we can. We should respond to the questions and concerns of others with patience and care. For that reason, we should stay close to Jesus and his Word so we can be prepared.
b. What kinds of false doctrine appeal to “itching ears”? List three.
“Itching ears” want to be soothed, not cured. What sounds good to those ears soothes them. What appeals to the sinful flesh is soothing. Therefore concerns about sin, death, and judgment are words of the law and not soothing. The message of Jesus who was crucified for sin is not a soothing message to those who are unwilling to confront their own sin and the judgment of God on human sinfulness.
Ideas that appeal to the itching ears:
- A religion that speaks of tolerance and acceptance of all, no matter what their belief. It is appealing to those ears to think that God will accept everyone and will condemn no one.
- A message that emphasizes human achievement and morality but does not proclaim Jesus.
- A message of “God in general,” which removes Jesus and yet claims to be Christian.
- A message of merit that claims we can earn our place in heaven by our efforts. This comes in so many different forms and in some ways is part of all the teachings that appeal to itching ears.
This is the eighth article in a 12-part series on the book of Revelation.
Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019